While you want your assisted living facility or nursing home to smell nice so that it is pleasant for visiting prospective families and the seniors who live there, there are other compelling reasons to use scent in your facility. Many scents can have therapeutic uses that can help your residents.
Memory care and cognition
Fragrance has been used in healthcare for centuries. For example, rosemary is traditionally known as the “herb of remembrance,” and science has proven it. A study published on the National Institutes of Health website shows that smelling rosemary helps to sharpen thinking and memory by increasing alertness and increasing beta waves in the frontal part of the brain, which is the region for higher thinking.
Because smell is processed in the limbic system, which is linked to memory, different smells can bring back memories vividly. In a study of nostaligic scents, approximately 85% of participants report smell-induced nostalgia.
Although people may have different scent preferences and positive or negative feelings associated with a particular scent, some fragrance preferences are common among people or a particular age and/or region. Researchers found that people born between 1930 and 1979 were reminded of their childhood by the smells of plastic, scented markers, airplane fuel, Vapor Rub, Sweet Tarts and Playdough.
Since about 40% of seniors in nursing homes suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, anything that can help stimulate memories, especially happy ones, has the potential to improve their quality of life.
Pain relief and stress reduction
Certain scents, including lavender and vanilla, have been used to reduce patient pain. Seniors may experience pain from joints, surgical procedures, falls and other injuries and disease such as cancer or diabetes. Patients benefit when pain is reduced, especially without intervention from opioid and other prescription medications.
In one study, hospital patients were exposed to both a pleasant relaxing scent and a pleasant stimulating scent and asked to assess their pain. With no scent, 10.1% reported pain, compared to 3.6% with a relaxing scent and 4.2% with a stimulating scent.
Stress is another persistent issue in nursing homes and assisted living facilities among both residents and staff. Pain, restricted mobility, disorientation, loneliness and lack of autonomy can cause chronic stress. Stress can lead to a host of other problems including insomnia, heart disease, ulcers and dangerous behavior in Alzheimer’s patients.
In a study published on the National Institutes of Health website, light therapy combined with scents of either lemon, lavender or peppermint were able to significantly improve mood, relieve depression, anxiety and stress. Participants in the scented condition also had lower blood pressure and heart rate. Another study found similar results with patients in an intensive care unit. After being exposed to lavender scent, patients reported significantly reduced stress and better sleep quality.
How to Use Scent Therapeutically
Think about using scent in certain parts of your facility or at certain times for therapeutic reasons. For example, before bedtime you can diffuse a relaxing scent to help seniors wind down. Or memory care therapy, use nostalgic scents to stimulate old memories.
Contact your Air Esscentials rep to see how you can use scents to make your assisted living or nursing home residents happier and healthier.