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How Scents Work to Treat Dementia and Depression


By Lynn C. Allison From Newsmax

A landmark study by neuroscientists from the University of Pittsburgh found that smelling familiar scents can improve the mood of people suffering from depression. The study showed that scents are more effective than words at cueing up a memory of a specific event and could even be used in a clinical setting to help depressed individuals get out of negative thought cycles. This allows for a rewiring of thought patterns, aiding faster and smoother healing.

People with depression often have problems with autobiographical memory and focus only on negative events or interpret events in a negative light. But memories triggered by scent tend to be clearer and more effective at recalling positive events, which can interrupt negative thought patterns.

“If we improve memory, we can improve problem solving, emotional regulation and other functional problems that depressed individuals often experience,” said study author Kymberly Young, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.

According to MSN, the scent of lavender has been used to calm patients undergoing cancer treatment. “Lavender is an analgesic, so it reduces pain. It is also proven to be anxiolytic, so it dissolves our anxieties,” says James Goodwin, the director of science and research impact at the U.K.-based Brain Health Network and author of Supercharge Your Brain.

Aromatherapy, the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic effect has been used for centuries, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. When inhaled, the scent molecules in essential oils travel from olfactory nerves directly to the brain and especially impact the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain.

One of the most exciting developments in clinical aromatherapy is its use in people with dementia. There is evidence that lavender oil reduces aggressive behavior in dementia patients. Goodwin adds that ginger can help reduce amyloid plaque accumulation in the brain, and coriander, like lavender, can reduce agitation in these patients. Rosemary improves concentration. Sweet orange, sandalwood, rose and bergamot also help with anxiety, he says. 

“Peppermint can bolster acetylcholine, a transmitter that plays a role in memory, learning and attention,” says Goodwin. The expert advises families of dementia patients to use essential oils when massaging their hands and feet, add them to a bath, or use a diffuser.

Interestingly, loss of smell is a class hallmark of Alzheimer’s, says Goodwin.

“Loss of smell, a neurophysiological process, mirrors neurodegeneration in the brain,” he explains. You can read more about of the healing power of scents here.

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