Has a scent ever tickled your nose and, for a moment, you were transported to a time in your youth when you first experienced that smell? This phenomenon is known as odour-evoked autobiographical memory, and its existence can change lives.
The science of smell
Odour-evoked memory, or the ‘Proust phenomenon’, reference odours that trigger the recollection of a meaningful past personal episode. These memories are different to those triggered by other stimuli because they are rarer, less frequently thought about, and tend to be clustered in the first decade of our lives.
In a way, they are a time capsule buried in our brain that allows us to relive a vivid memory from our youth with a simple smell. These memories are more vivid because of the unique place they occupy in our brains. The amygdala and hippocampus are both activated by the primary olfactory cortex. These are the areas of our brain that do the heavy lifting when it comes to associative learning and processing emotional memory and experiences.
These are also areas that light up when our brain accesses an odour-evoked memory, areas that do not activate as much when the brain accesses other stimuli related memories. Our sense of smell lays deeper and creates more meaningful connections in our brain than any other sense is able to.
How can this help people?
Alzheimer’s and other dementia related conditions have been linked to a lessening or loss of sense of smell. While it is too early in the research to draw a clear link, findings do show that people who suffer from these degenerative conditions can still be helped to experience their odour-evoked memories.
At Community Vision, we understand the value this can add to the life of a person living with dementia. A simple smell can transport someone to happier times and enrich their life. That’s why we want to start a dementia bus service, visiting people with dementia in the community and helping them live full lives. You can help us by hosting a roast with your friends and family.