Pacifica Senior Living Blog

How Can Scent Impact Memory Care?

Mar 9, 2022 3:09:35 PM / by Carly Dodd, Pacifica Senior Living

The connection between our senses and our memory is a deep one. Smells, sounds, and tastes can invoke warm memories, while visuals and touch can have strong associations. This connection between memory and sense can be a useful tool in Memory Care programs and treatments.

At Pacifica Senior Living we aim to be on the cusp of new studies, programs and treatments that can help our residents enjoy a more comfortable, peaceful life. 

Those that experience memory loss, or have been diagnosed with cognitive disorders such as Parkinson's or Dementia can often feel uneasy, out of place, or generally unsettled due to gaps in their memory.

By using research and studies that focus on the impact of scent in relation to memory, our team at Pacifica is better able to assist when memory care is needed. Our aim is to ensure those dealing with memory conditions enjoy the most relaxed, comfortable, and stable surroundings possible. 

How Much is Memory Care Affected by Scent?

Our senses are powerful, and scent is both a strange and wonderful sense. Whether it’s the aroma of freshly baked bread evoking home cooked meals and memories with loved ones, or a particular perfume reminding us of someone we care about, we are all familiar with the experience of a specific fragrance inducing powerful feelings and memories.


The sense of smell is considered to be the most powerful of the five senses, and the one most closely linked with memory. This is because scientifically, the sense of smell is directly linked to our emotional centers in the brain and can evoke feelings stemming from memory recall.


The smell receptors in the nasal cavity react and send signals that activate specific areas of the brain associated with emotions and memory in a phenomenon called olfactory-evoked recall. 


While everyone has different associations, favorite smells, or specific memories attached to certain scents, the use of smell is universally powerful in terms of evoking strong, deep memories. 


Because smells are so strongly associated with mood and memory, they can be extremely helpful when unlocking scent memories, reducing stress, and creating calm, soothing environments.


Natural aromas such as lavender are particularly soothing, and essential oils or diffusers can help gently disperse these scents to create a sense of calm.

These aromatherapies can be used at different times to stimulate different responses. Coffee is often associated with waking up, and the fresh scent of a brew can signal the start of a new day.


Similarly these calming scents like lavender can be especially useful during the end of day to help residents wind down. Establishing a routine is important for Memory Care residents, and these smells can help create strong associations at specific times of the day.

Scent and Appetite:

Another major way that scent can be useful is in relation to stimulating appetite. Unfortunately those dealing with Alzheimer's and other memory ailments often experience a lack of appetite. It can be difficult to encourage these individuals to continue to eat, and stay healthy and nourished.


Scent plays a huge part in appetite stimulation, and using scent to encourage eating is one way to help those in Memory Care programs.

Scents such as mint, chamomile, bergamot (found in Earl Grey Tea), cardamom and citrus have all been found to stimulate appetite when dementia patients stop eating.


These scents are easy to find, as they all exist as teas. Using hot tea - which is especially aromatic due to its vapors - can be a great way to help boost appetites in residents. 


Similarly, using strong scents directly associated with food can make you more hungry - we’ve all experienced the sensation of smelling cookies baking in the oven, or a sizzling steak, or the mouth watering scent of melting cheese.


These smells are so strongly associated with taste, that they almost instantly stimulate our taste buds, and make us hungry.

Our skilled kitchen staff work to help encourage healthy appetites across our Memory Care communities by creating flavorful and fragrant meals to delight and entice our residents. You can come visit us for a complimentary lunch and smell for yourself just how mouthwatering our meals can be! 

Why Memory Care Programs are Focusing on Scent:

Pacifica Senior Living is always trying new ways to use scent and senses to help our Memory Care residents enjoy a more full and engaged life. The Woodmark at Sun City received samples of Aromatherapy playdough from Just Dough It, which was specifically designed for use in Memory Care.

Five scents of dough were available, including lavender and anxiety relief, tea tree oil, coffee and peppermint. These scents - found to have strong associations with memory - are released as residents sculpt and create with the soft dough.

Similarly, gentle hand massages and manicures are popular among our Memory Care residents, and diluted essential oils can help to soothe and relax during this process.


Lavender, geranium and other floral scents can have calming effects, while Angelica oil and Cypress tree oil have also been found to have relaxing qualities.


Incorporating these scents into hand massages or spa days can increase feelings of calm, and set aside anxieties and uncertainties common in those dealing with memory loss. 

Implementing research and tools such as these are useful ways our Legacies teams can help those dealing with dementia or memory loss, and work towards finding the stimulants and triggers that work best for each individual.

Aromatherapy, scent association, and calming through essential oils are all ways Memory Care programs can use our sense of smell to help stimulate memory, provide a sense of calm, or encourage recollections and engagements.

To learn more about how senses can impact dementia care, sign up for our free educational web event HERE.

You can also find more about Memory Care here.


Tags: Memory Care