Tag Archives: smell

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
 on Facebook 


Memories and memorials may help prevent dementia

You really can go home again. In fact, according to a recent article, 5 Ways to Capture Memories: Seniors with Alzheimer’s article, going home is good for the memory. Of course, the saying “You can’t go home again” has more to do with wanting things to be exactly as they were in the past. That is a different issue. This article touched on a variety of ways to help the memories of the present by experiencing places, faces and the smells of the past.finishing_well_in_life_map

We were able to experience some of the joy of reminiscences on a recent trip we took to visit the area where my husband spent a great deal of his childhood. One of his dear cousins passed away, and we traveled up to the state of Washington for the memorial. While there, we did some driving around to see some his childhood houses and haunts.

One place, in particular, was a wonderful meat store called “Farmer George Meats”  in Port Orchard – by the way, if you ever find yourself in the region, make sure you stop by Farmer George Meats and pick up some of the finest jerky or beef sticks on the planet. Not only was the visual of seeing the shop wonderful, but the smell of the ‘smokes and spices‘ used to prepare the meat triggered a cacophony of wonderful memories.

When we were first married, Wayne was stationed at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, so while we were there, we also checked out the places we lived at that time. Though we noticed the differences, we appreciated the parts that were the same.

The memorial itself, with all the various family and friends, evoked powerful associations and memories.  There is something inherently satisfying about making those types of connections.

More memories

To make a delightful trip (though for a sad reason) more enjoyable, we were able to stop in Portland for a short visit with one of my cousins. The visit was lovely as we were able to catch up on family news. As an unexpected bonus, the sound of my cousin’s voice (with her charming Wisconsin accent) produced powerful reminders of the sounds of speech I heard as a child back in the Great Lakes area.

Our oldest son is getting to enjoy, to a degree some of the joys of returning to visit his hometown, as he has been able to come out to California for a rare vacation. He has been able to see the familiar faces and places from his childhood.

As Glenn E. Smith, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at the Mayo Clinic, in an article on the clinic’s website says, By gathering memories, you can bring important events and experiences from your loved one’s past into the present. You’re the link to his or her life history.

So, whether physically, or virtually, try to take a trip or two down memory lane to enjoy a journey of a lifetime.


"Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia" can be ordered by clicking on the following link: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01GAG2ZMS
“Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia” By Senia Owensby

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 on Facebook 

 

Curry some goodness

I love it when a study comes out that touts the benefits of a food I love. As you might guess from the title of this post, today’s topic is curry. Turns out that curry has some secrets hidden in all it’s yellow goodness.

A new trial by Australian scientists suggests that eating curry on a weekly basis may keep dementia at bay as we age.

Published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the study identifies yellow spice turmeric, which contains curcumin – an ingredient used in many curry dishes. It is thought that the curcumin blocks rogue proteins called beta amyloid, which clump together and destroy neurons.

Curry is a dietary staple in India, a country where the rate of Alzheimer’s disease is among the world’s lowest.

According to a story posted by WebMD, researchers say curry’s powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties make it a very attractive possibility for treating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease.

finishingwellinlife-turmeri

My husband and I had learned about the possible benefits of turmeric, so we began the practice of eating a spoonful of mustard, (which contains turmeric) each day. I love mustard, so it wasn’t a problem, but my husband thought it might be nice to see if perhaps it came in pill form. Fortunately, it does!

In light of this finding, we recently went to one of our favorite Thai restaurants to order some yummy, curry-laden dishes. When the food arrived, the waitress asked if I would like some chopsticks. I was feeling adventurous, and (while retaining my fork) I said, “Yes”.

I quickly discovered another brain sharpening feature of eating curry: Using chopsticks. Since I’m not very good with them, it is a good neurobic exercise for me.  Neurobic exercises in a nutshell are: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways.

I wrote about neurobics in a previous post: “Upside Down and Backwards”     Of course, if you are already handy with chopsticks, it may not be that helpful for you, but still fun nevertheless.

If you really want to get a wonderful, dementia bashing benefit from eating curry, then here’s one more tip. Grab a friend – or several to join you for dinner. Studies show that social engagement – talking, laughing and sharing with others is good for your brain.

Are you beginning to feel hungry? Why not make a plan to ‘curry’ some goodness in the near future.

 

Have yourself a merry little memory

In a recent post, (It’s beginning to look alot like Christmas…) I wrote about helping your loved one awaken some memories using songs, smells and visual reminders of favorite Christmas traditions.

I would be remiss not to also emphasize the need for us to fix some of our own memories in our minds. Whether you are a caregiver, or someone who is simply concerned with memory issues. This season is a fabulous time to ‘set’ some of our own Christmas experiences into more permanent memories.finishing-well-in-life-decor-two

How? The secret is: Be sense-conscious with as many different senses at a time during this sensory-rich season of the year. Studies have shown that using multiple senses at the same time  actually works the best to help improve memory retention.

The Christmas season is filled with a multitude of sense-tickling treats. This is a good time to do something unusual or surprising for your brain. Whether you are by yourself or gathered with others, if possible, take a moment to sit down close your eyes. Try to identify what you hear and what you smell along with how you feel when you experience each of those things.

Examples might be: take in the sharp whiff of fresh cut pine, the soft alluring aroma of freshly baked cookies or simply the compelling combination of cooking smells emanating from the Christmas dinner. Listen to the sound of conversation, laughter, and familiar songs are all possible memory markers.

Don’t forget to also engage your emotions. If you include your feelings, you are more likely you are to remember something. All of these areas working together will help make your brain sit up and take notice. When it does, you release a natural growth hormone called neurotrophins, which enhances your brain’s fitness levels. Each time you open a new circuit, or a neural pathway, you do what amounts to mental sit-ups, but without the exertion.

What are some of your favorite ‘Senses of the Season’?

It’s beginning to look alot like Christmas…

Everywhere you go….

One of the wonderful things about this time of the year is that it is steeped in all the essential elements that help stir and awaken the areas in our brains that have to do with memory.finishing_well-in-life-gingerbreadment

Songs. After my Mama was unable to carry on a conversation or even speak, she was still able to sing. On good days, I could pull one of her ‘heart songs’ out of her. Perhaps it is because, as my husband says, “Music does not reside in the brain, it lives in the soul.” Heart songs are special. Not every song learned becomes a ‘heart song’, only the ones that somehow get embedded into the fabric of our souls. Of all the songs that a person might learn over the course of their lifetime, Christmas songs are very likely on the list. Whether your loved one believes that Jesus is the reason for the Season, or Santa Clause is coming to town, find out what songs stir, and awaken the music inside.

Smells. Recent studies have shown there is indeed a benefit to smelling: The actual process of smelling helps stimulate the neural pathways in our brain to keep them clear or even encourage new branches. The Christmas season brings with it a whole gaggle of smells. From freshly cut pine, to warm Christmas cookies and a host of other, unique fragrances and aromas that arise during this time of the year. Do you have memories of certain smells associated with Christmas? If your loved one is your parent, perhaps those would be the ones to begin with.

Visual memories. Just as ‘music serves as a potent trigger for retrieving memories’, decorate, or collect bits and pieces that may stimulate a lifetime of Christmas memories. Did your loved one have favorite Christmas decorations? If you don’t know, perhaps ask family members or try the standard items that might trigger nostalgia such as garland, poinsettias and lights and bells. Memory Museums are popping up in many places that seem to help patients return to long-term memories of childhood and growing up.

If you are not already incorporating any of these suggestions, give them a try during this Christmas season. Of course, the nice thing about caring for someone who is no longer reading a calendar, Christmas could happen on a very regular basis.

Please share your Christmas season songs, smells and memories with us

Keep Smell’n Them Flowers

Usually when someone says, “Stop and smell the roses”, it means that person wants you to slow down, relax, unwind. Well, as a caregiver, you may find yourself agreeing with the idea and wishing you could take a moment here and there to enjoy a quick sniff.

finishing_well-in-life-sunflower-from-my-garden
A beautiful sunflower from my garden

But no, wait! There are other reasons you may want to indulge in a whiff or two.

Recent studies suggest that there is an entirely different reason to pause and take pleasure in the aroma of not only flowers, but coffee perking, popcorn popping, and freshly baked bread.

Pausing to breathe in the lovely fragrance of a favorite flower does more than providing a person with a moment of pleasure. The actual process of smelling helps stimulate the neural pathways in our brain to keep them clear or even encourage new branches.

Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell & Taste Treatment & Research Foundation in Chicago says, “Someone who is colorblind can look at red and green all day but never see it. But with a smell, you can actually cause nerve connections to act and smell what perhaps you couldn’t before.”

Ron Winnegrad, director of International Flavors Fragrances Inc.’s New York perfumery school, teaches aspiring perfumers the basics of perfume skills. His first rule of thumb: Be scent-conscious in your day-to-day life. “If you’re drinking a cup of coffee or tea, actually smell it before you drink it, and when eating food, smell it first,” he says. “If you do this on a regular basis, you will increase your sense of smell.”

Of all the senses, the sense of smell is the most closely tied to memories – especially childhood memories. After nearly a half-century, I occasionally catch a whiff of something that takes me back to summer mornings when I was a child in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where we spent our summers.

One of the saddest aspects of my Mama’s dementia was the realization that she had lost her sense of smell. Her favorite flower was wisteria. We had a beautiful vine full of lovely lavender flowers growing near our front porch. I tried to encourage Mama to try smelling them, but she wasn’t able to understand what to do when I put a flower up near her nose.

If your loved one has any sense of smell, aromatherapy is worth a try. Even if it does nothing to reverse or delay cognitive impairment, it has been shown to reduce or ease some of the disturbing symptoms of dementia.

Alistair Burns, professor of old age psychiatry at the University of Manchester in the U.K. says, “A whiff of soothing lavender or exposure to bright light may be enough to relieve some of the most disturbing symptoms of dementia.

The British researcher  says certain alternative therapies may be effective ways to counter the effects of mental decline without the negative side effects of some medications.finishing-well-in-life-violet

So, what are you waiting for? Find a flower, bring to your nose. Sniff. Repeat.