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The Science of Scent

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Dementia is a broad term describing a range of biological symptoms which include memory loss, confusion, difficulty finding words, challenges with motor function, and more.  I know, I know...this is a candle company's website - what does dementia have to do with candles? Surprisingly, a lot!  But first, let me tell you a story.

About a month ago, we discovered an elderly family member had fallen; she wasn't discovered until a few days after the fall.  In the midst of finalizing summer scent offerings, I found myself frantically throwing random clothes into a suitcase.  I rushed through a 12 hour drive to reach this family member and assess the situation.  I'm happy to report our family member is rehabilitating and thriving in a care facility for now - with a new diagnosis of dementia.

As we navigate this new chapter in our loved one's life, I'm finding myself researching more and more about the connection between our sense of smell and our memories.  I always knew about this connection and have used it time and time again to curate meaningful, relatable scents; however, with a new, deeply personal interest in the topic, I couldn't help but get obsessed.  

In 2018, the University of Toronto published a study proving that, "information about space and time integrate within a region of the brain important for the sense of smell -- yet poorly understood -- known as the anterior olfactory nucleus (AON). When these elements combine, a what-when-where memory is formed. This is why, for example, you might have the ability to remember the smell of a lover's perfume (the what) when you reminisce about your first kiss (the when and where)."

I can't find a source, but a few years ago, I read an article online where a family matriarch was famous for her apple pies.  In her later years, as dementia set in, the family would strive to work with her to recall precious memories.  At one point, they brought in an apple pie scented candle and for about 20-30 minutes she was completely, totally present with her family.  She knew each of their names, their work and general life situations, and they all fondly reminisced about those famous apple pies.  The familiar scent was enough to provoke her memories and encourage her limbic system to get into gear.

I'm slowly creating a few wax melts in scents to hopefully assist our family member as she embarks on this new dementia journey.  Being an avid landscaper in the south, I know she has an affinity for gardenias.  She's also a fan of roses and often tells the story of her 100+ year old rose bush - it came from cuttings of her grandmother's rose bush. 

A 2009 study from Japan found that therapy with specific scents - including lavender, orange, rosemary and lemon - could actually improve personal orientation in relation to cognitive function in Alzheimer's patients.  

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  This work is more than just "making candles" for me.  It's a personal mission for creating quality, handcrafted candles in meaningful scents that impact the home in a positive way.  And now, I have a whole new reason to double-down on this mission.

Be blessed!


alzheimer's connection dementia limbic memories scent

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