Olfactory Stimulation for Alzheimer’s and Dementia

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Take time to smell the roses

Olfactory Stimulation – Some of our strongest memories, our most potent associations, are triggered by odor. A smell that you associate with an event or moment in the past will often transport you to that moment. It can do so much more than just stir a memory. But stir memories it does, and anything that has the power to channel reminiscences should be part of the daily life of any  person with dementia.

Smell, and the related sense of taste, seem to be the senses most likely to be impaired by the normal aging process, and impaired to the greatest degree. This is especially unfortunate, as the sense of smell is probably more closely tied to memories and reminiscence than any of the other senses. Smell is processed in a different part of the brain than the other senses. There is good news—recent evidence seems to indicate that the sense of smell can be exercised. From a recent article by Susan Reimer (The Baltimore Sun, February 18, 2013):

But we might be able to stem the tide of this particular loss. According to the (report), there are the equivalent of puzzle books for your nose—exercises that sharpen the olfactory function the way crosswords exercise your brain.
We are supposed to put aside small jars of spices, pencil shavings and even the leaves of plants and sniff them regularly to kick start the receptors in the brain. Experts recommend 30 minutes a day: but they can’t be serious.

The article is written a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there are ways to strengthen the sense of smell (and with it taste), and there are many reasons to do this; enjoyment of food and flowers and a loaf of bread in the oven, and reminiscence are only some of the reasons to keep our sense of smell as sharp as we can.

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Olfactory Stimulation for Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Loss of the sense of smell can be the result of a zinc deficiency: if you suspect a zinc deficiency serve foods high in this mineral, like oysters, lentils, sunflower seeds, pecans, or take a supplement. The use of a humidifier to keep moisture in the air is another helpful tip to improve the sense of smell. And Susan Reimer was right, you can exercise the olfactory sense by using it. And this can become a fun cognitive exercise, as well. Create a collection of mostly recognizable scents; herbs and spices are a good place to start. One by one, smell and identify the substance. Talk about memories that a particular smell might elicit. This simple activity is sensory, cognitive and reminiscent, as well as enjoyable.

Aromatherapy

The essential oils used in aromatherapy smell pleasant (mostly), and some, like peppermint, lavender, and rosemary, are familiar, but aromatherapy is much more than sensory stimulation. Aromatherapists claim certain healing effects for the various oils used, and these effects are beginning to be validated by the scientific community.

The roots of aromatherapy go back centuries, but the methods of extracting the essential oils used are much more recent. Different healing properties are claimed for different oils. Some that show promise for treating symptoms of AD include:

  • Lavender – Traditionally, lavender is said to be calming and to balance strong emotions. It is also antidepressant and is used in cases of insomnia. Use it in the evening to promote better sleep.
  • Lemon Balm –Melissa is probably the most studied of the essential oils for its affect on people who have Alzheimer’s disease, and it is very likely one of the most effective, but it is more costly than other oils that we offer.
  • Peppermint – Used to both stimulate the mind and calm the nerves. It is said to rectify absent-mindedness. What could be better?
  • Rosemary – Stimulating and uplifting. Stimulates body and mind. Exposure to rosemary oil improves cognitive performance; this in addition to the improvement in mood.
  • Bergamot – Mood elevating, calming and balancing. Relieves stress, anxiety, and mild depression. Refreshes. Relieves insomnia.

SHOP AROMATHERAPY

These are just a few of the essential oils that could be effective for people with Alzheimer’s disease. One with stimulating properties and one that is calming would be a good start. See how well your choices work, then try a couple more. Remember that a good sense of smell is not required for aromatherapy to work its magic. It is not the odor that is beneficial. Essential oils are effective even when absorbed through the skin.

Or consider our synergy blends. A synergy is a mixture of essential oils whose action has a greater total effect than the sum of the individual oils. The Oshadhi Synergies we offer are named for their applications, making it easy to select the effects you desire. For example, Evening Peace is blended to instill a peaceful mood and is recommended for use in the evening. For your health and renewal, these are the finest aromatherapy synergies available. (See our essential oils to select synergy blends.)

Read more about aromatherapy

Other Aroma Therapy

Use of the essential oils is not the only way that a person with dementia can benefit from his sense of smell. The odor of fresh bread or cookies filling the house is guaranteed to inspire memories in almost anyone, whether those memories can be vocalized or not. The smoke from a campfire, cherry blossoms in the spring, a turkey roasting on Thanksgiving day, a special perfume or cologne: these are sure to take almost everyone back to something in their past.

Scented candles and incense are easy ways to bring aromas into the living space. Incense provides a strong aroma, so is especially good if a person has a diminished sense of smell. Just be careful with candles and incense; don’t leave a person with dementia alone with an open flame or even a glowing stick of incense. Potpourri and scented soaps and lotions add to the olfactory environment. And don’t forget to bring in the smells of nature. Flowers should be part of your decor whenever possible. 

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About Author

Degrees in psychology and education as well as professional certifications in business administration and website development gave John the ideal credentials to co-found and develop an internet presence dedicated to helping caregivers provide exceptional care to those who are no longer able to care for themselves because of the impact of dementia. Since 2007, Best Alzheimer's Products has earned national and international recognition as a place to go for help and advice, with the goal of making life better for people living with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

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