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Having a nose for it

Of all our senses, the sense of smell is perhaps the most mysterious and most difficult to analyse and describe. Yet the appreciation of scents is something wonderful and closely linked to emotional states and wellbeing – a horrid smell will fill you with disgust and a wish to get away and be cleansed. A beautiful scent will elevate your spirits and perhaps stimulate great feelings and ideas – aroma from foods and cooking tell us of good feelings, oral pleasure and a feeling or memory of comfort and home.

We have become used to working with the understanding that music, dance and exercise, and the visual arts are amongst the most powerful and reliable means of helping us all to feel good and perform at our best – Certainly and most certainly for people living with dementia.

But what about olfaction?

It is known that lack or loss of the sense of smell (anosmia) is associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment and the development of dementia: Associations of Olfaction With Longitudinal Trajectories of Brain Volumes and Neuropsychological Function in Older Adults - PubMed (

This might, like hearing impairment, be a consequence of lost stimulation in this modality. In our research and speculations of the 1980s we noted that the cribriform plate lead from the top of the nasal cavities via the Olfactory Nerves, directly into the brain. We wondered if this might be a channel for infections of toxins to enter the brain – especially the ancient tracts of ‘the small brain’, which constitute much of the anatomy now used in memory production and storage. Just speculation.

There is though, evidence that augmenting natural scents and odours can be successful in increasing cognitive awareness and function: Bolstering our sense of smell may reduce the risk of dementia | Health | The Guardian

This opens up another approach, entirely equivalent to the hearing model, whereby cognitive impairment and progressive loss may be arrested or revered by this physical challenge.

Meanwhile there is every reason to include aromas as therapy and sources of pleasure and reminiscence to enhance the lives of people with dementia, as for all of us. Aromatherapy for Dementia Patients | A Place for Mom


Each week we post a blog from David Jolley where he shares his personal views on relevant subjects.

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