Getting a Regular Whiff of a Different Scent Each Night May Significantly Boost Memory

Getting a Regular Whiff of a Different Scent Each Night May Significantly Boost Memory

The loss of smell has been linked with cognitive decline, which may not be surprising, as we’ve all experienced smells triggering certain strong memories. A new study finds that stimulating your olfactory system with some different smells each night may actually strengthen your memory even more.

Research recently published in Frontiers in Neuroscience looked at the cognitive impact of exposing older adults to a different scent each night of the week using a diffuser. The study involved 43 adults between the ages of 60 and 85, split into an enriched group and a control group. According to the findings, just two hours a night of this olfactory stimulation was linked with a 226% improvement on a word list test used to gauge a person’s memory, compared to the control group.

The researchers say this shows that enriching our sniffers may be an effective and low-effort way to boost our brain health.

The study builds on past research that showed exposing patients with moderate dementia to 40 different odors twice a day was linked with improved memory and language skills and improved sense of smell. That’s a fairly high daily figure, though, so the team lowered their total a bit.

Cynthia Woo, first author and project scientist, explains, “That’s why we reduced the number of scents to just seven, exposing participants to just one each time, rather than the multiple aromas used simultaneously in previous research projects. By making it possible for people to experience the odors while sleeping, we eliminated the need to set aside time for this during waking hours every day.”

The findings add more evidence to the link between sense of smell and memory. However, as we get older, that sense tends to fall off. Research has shown that more than 75% of people 80 and older have evidence of major olfactory impairment. Owing to this, the team would like to continue their study of olfactory stimulation on older people, particularly those with a diagnosis of cognitive loss. They hope their work could also one day lead to research into olfactory therapies for memory impairment.

Michael Yassa, study co-author and professor of neurobiology and behavior at University of California, Irvine, says, “The olfactory sense has the special privilege of being directly connected to the brain’s memory circuits. All the other senses are routed first through the thalamus. Everyone has experienced how powerful aromas are in evoking recollections, even from very long ago. However, unlike with vision changes that we treat with glasses and hearing aids for hearing impairment, there has been no intervention for the loss of smell.”

Other research has found that inhaling menthol may help with Alzheimer’s symptoms. You can read more about that here.

Michelle Milliken

Michelle has a journalism degree and has spent more than seven years working in broadcast news. She's also been known to write some silly stuff for humor websites. When she's not writing, she's probably getting lost in nature, with a fully-stocked backpack, of course.

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