The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. Those with full olfactory function may be able to think of smells that evoke memories; the scent of certain perfumes conjuring up recollections of a childhood favourite Aunt, for example. This can often happen spontaneously, with a smell acting as a trigger in recalling a long-forgotten event or experience.
Smell and Emotion
In addition to being the sense most closely linked to memory, smell is also highly emotive. The perfume industry is built around this connection, with perfumers developing fragrances that seek to convey a vast array of emotions and feelings; from desire to power, vitality to relaxation.
It is likely that much of our emotional response to smell is governed by association, something which is borne out by the fact that different people can have completely different perceptions of the same smell. Take perfume for example; one person may find a particular brand ‘powerful’, ‘aromatic’ and ‘heady’, with another describing it as ‘overpowering’, ‘sickly’ and ‘nauseating’.
The Psychological Impact of Loss of Smell
Given that our sense of smell clearly plays an important part in our psychological make-up, in addition to its being one of the five ways in which we connect with the world around us, research has shown that loss of olfactory function can be an indicator of something far more serious. Loss of smell occurs with both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, and studies have indicated that a diminishing sense of smell can be an early sign of the onset of both conditions, occurring several years before motor skill problems develop.
The nerve that control our sense of smell is the only cranial nerve directly exposed to the environment. The cells that detect smells connect directly with the olfactory bulb at the base of the brain, potentially exposing the central nervous system to environmental hazards such as pollution or pathogens. Similarly the central nervous system can be directly exposed to aromas from essential oils that may have a beneficial effect on health and possibly slow down or reverse the symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and even ADHD in children.
In a recent British study 150 older adults (65+) were tested on their prospective memory while in one of three rooms: a room that was scented with either rosemary or lavender, or an unscented room. The scented rooms had four drops of either lavender or rosemary essential oils placed on an aroma stream fan diffuser, switched on for five minutes before the participants entered the room. Prospective memory was tested by needing the participants to remember to pass on a message at a given time during the procedure, and having to switch tasks when a specific event occurred.
The room scented with rosemary significantly enhanced prospective memory compared to the room with no aroma. It also significantly increased alertness, while lavender significantly increased calmness and contentedness. This research suggests that essential oils can play a very important role in helping families cope with early onset dementia, Alzheimer, Parkinson, etc. Encouraging the use of specific essential oils by family members of people diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer, dementia, Parkinson, etc. may help reduce the psychological trauma of not being recognised by a loved one or help with short term memory retention.
Our hair products are made with essential oils such as lavender, Rosemary, to name a few, which can also help with improving circulation to the scalp. Here are some other research results on some of our favourite essential oils:
- Lavender – Calming, used on breaks increases concentration during the tasks
- Rosemary – Increases memory and alertness
- Bergamot – germ-killing benefits (influenza), calming, provides energy
- Lemon – increased accuracy
- Cedarwood – Improved brain patterns, decreased inattention and hyperactivity
- Jasmine – Sleep aid, leads to a more restful night
- Peppermint – Enhanced alertness, improves the accuracy of memory
- Rose – Reduce anxiety, help with grieving and shock
As you can see there is quite a variety of beneficial effects that can be achieved through the use of essential oils around the home, such as improved health, memory, and emotion.