Essential Oils and Memory Boost: Scent's Surprising Role in Boosting Memory

alzheimers brain health Aug 09, 2023

A pleasing scent wafting through the rooms of older adults at night could hold the key to unlocking better memories, according to a recent study conducted by neuroscientists. The findings suggest that using scents as part of a simple nightly routine might significantly enhance memory and even help prevent conditions like dementia.

Researchers at the University of California in Irvine have unveiled an exciting discovery that sheds new light on the connection between smell and memory. Through a non-invasive approach, they demonstrated that infusing fragrances into the nightly routine of older adults led to a remarkable 226% improvement in their cognitive abilities compared to a group that didn't receive the fragrant treatment.

The study, which has been published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, focused on individuals aged 60 to 85 who didn't have memory problems. Each participant was given a device called a diffuser and seven small containers, or cartridges, each holding a unique natural oil with a different scent. The experimental group received cartridges filled with strong concentrations of these natural oils, while the control group got only a faint whiff.

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As part of their evening routine, participants placed a different cartridge into their diffuser before going to bed. The device then released the fragrance into the air for two hours while they slept. Remarkably, the group using the stronger scents experienced a remarkable 226% boost in their cognitive abilities. This improvement was measured using a standard memory test involving words. Additionally, participants reported experiencing deeper and more restful sleep.

When scientists looked closely at the brain using imaging techniques, they noticed positive changes in a specific brain pathway called the "left uncinate fasciculus."

This pathway, which connects the medial temporal lobe to the decision-making prefrontal cortex, tends to weaken as people age. However, the enriched group showed better integrity in this pathway, suggesting that the scents played a role in maintaining its strength.

Scientists have long been aware of the strong connection between our sense of smell and various aspects of brain health. The ability to smell is closely linked to nearly 70 neurological and psychiatric conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and alcoholism. In fact, changes in the sense of smell can sometimes predict the development of these conditions. There's also emerging evidence suggesting that the loss of smell due to COVID-19 might be linked to a decline in cognitive abilities.

In conclusion, this study reveals a fascinating way in which scents can positively influence our memory and cognitive functions. By incorporating pleasant essential oils into our nightly routine, we may be able to give our brains a valuable boost and potentially safeguard our mental well-being in the long run.

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About the author:

Jim Donovan M.Ed. is a multi-platinum musician, educator and TEDx speaker.

His mission is to share the restorative power of music through education and performance.

Donovan is an Assistant Professor and Director of Music and Wellness at Saint Francis University.

His viral TEDx Talk "How to Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep" has been viewed over 6 million times to date.

He currently performs with his band The Sun King Warriors who can best described as as a blend of rhythm heavy roots rock, with a strong dose of big barreling drums. 

Jim Donovan got his start as a founding member of the multi-platinum selling band Rusted Root. 

There he co-wrote the song “Send Me on My Way” featured in the movies "Ice Age", "Matilda" and the Netflix series "New Girl".

During his time with the band 1990-2005, he recorded and released seven full length albums. Including "When I Woke" (3x platinum).

He also had the honor of sharing the stage with many of his musical influences and heroes including Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin (1995 US/UK tour), Carlos Santana (1997/2002 US tour), The Allman Brothers Band (1995/96 US tour), The Grateful Dead (1995 Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA) and many others.

Send Me On My Way also became the first song on Mars where it “woke up” NASA’s Mars Rover.


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