Autumn sights, sounds and smells help trigger memories

I love this time of the year. Autumn, Fall, Holiday season – whatever you call it. Cooling trends begin as days get shorter. Trees begin dressing in their fall finery before decorating the ground with their orange, red and yellow jewels.

Beautiful autumn colors along Hwy 9 in Maine
Beautiful autumn colors along Hwy 9 in Maine

We recently enjoyed a road trip that took us through several New England states in order to spend time with family in New Brunswick, Canada. The trees were stunning, the air was crisp (as were the apples). The timing of our trip was perfect as we were also treated to the delightful show of fallen leaves dancing on the road in front of us caused by the wind whipping them up and around as we drove through Maine. 

Sensory stimulation is vital for everyone

Our senses help us comprehend the world around us. Studies show that senses are also powerful memory triggers. Why? According to LiveScience.com, the same part of the brain that’s in charge of processing our senses is also responsible, at least in part, for storing emotional memories. Our brains receive information through our senses; primarily sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. The Autumn season, it turns out holds a bushel full of sensory delights to help trigger a trip down memory lane.

Autumn memory triggers

Sensory stimulation may be helpful if you have a loved one who is becoming forgetful, or showing any symptoms of dementia.  Walking through familiar fall activities may help ‘prime the pump‘ so to speak and possibly activate some of the memories hidden inside their brain.  Ponder the possibilities by taking lovely drive through the countryside to view trees dressed in their fall finery and breath in the crisp, cool air.

A tractor and crates of pumpkins harvested for pies and carvings for autumn traditions
Harvesting pumpkins for pies and carvings for autumn traditions

The Thanksgiving Holiday plays a large part in packing the emotional memory box for Autumn. This season is resplendent with the sights, sounds and smells that can trigger old memories. Smell of pumpkin pies, wafting smoke from burning leaves, and cool morning mist. Beautiful changing leaves, blooming mums, as well as the taste of candy corn. Songs such as “Over the River and Through the Woods”, “Count Your Blessings”, and “My Favorite Things” are also powerful memory triggers.

The sing-song voices of children calling ‘Trick or Treat’ may trigger fun memories. Pay close attention to be sure they don’t become confused by all the costumes. Keeping activities short or limited is a good idea, as overstimulation can result in negative emotions.

Meaningful and familiar

Yummy pumpkin pie part of the Autumn tradition
Yummy pumpkin pie part of the Autumn tradition CC0 Creative Commons

The important thing with any activity is that it is meaningful and familiar to your loved one. If you are aware of traditions done in the past, then begin with those things. Don’t give up if you have to try a few things before something clicks. This is going to be a season of changes. When the smell of the old family recipe of pumpkin spice cake baking seems to perk your loved one up one day, but not the next, then perhaps vanilla will work. Smells, it turns out are the most powerful memory triggers of all the senses. The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.

As we turn the corner from the hot summer and temperatures begin to cool down, be sure to time for your own enjoyment of autumn. Wonderful recollections are good for everyone – not just those with memory issues.

Finish well!

Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group
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