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We have all experienced the strong link between smell and memory. A whiff of chlorine probably reminds you of summer pool parties, while the scent of flowers may bring back memories of your grandma's garden. Now, researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) have found that breathing in pleasant aromas could even help improve memory and learning.
The study, led by Cynthia Woo, involved 43 healthy adults aged between 60 and 85. The scientists divided them into two groups. The test group was provided with scent-releasing machines and some natural oils with different fragrances. They included orange, eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, and lavender. The control group was given the same equipment. However, the natural oils they received had small amounts of the different fragrances.
The participants were asked to use one of the scented oils to perfume their homes for two hours every night for six months. They were also required to rotate the fragrances and use a different one each night.
At the end of the six months, all volunteers took a word list test commonly used to evaluate memory. The group exposed to the heavily scented oils outperformed the control group by an astounding 226 percent!
Woo and her team maintain that it does not matter when the scents are inhaled. However, varying the fragrances is of utmost importance. The scientists believe the novelty of different smells helps stimulate the memory centers of human brains.
The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience on July 24, 2023. They build upon previous research with similar results. In that case, the volunteers were asked to rotate between 40 scents over the course of 15 days. The sample size of both the studies was small. But they demonstrate the impact of smell on our ability to remember things. Woo's team thinks this simple action could reduce memory loss in older adults. It could probably also help improve memory in younger people.
The UCI team next plans to conduct a similar study on older people already suffering from memory loss. They are eager to learn if pleasant smells can help reverse the memory decline.
Resources: news.icu.edu, NPR.org, Frontiers.org