How many times have you smelled a particular perfume or aroma and remembered moments linked to the past or childhood. Well, smells can really stimulate memory and increase it by counteracting the decline of age, as emerges from a very interesting scientific research published a few weeks ago in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience by an American team from the University of California, Irvine (Woo et al, Frontiers in Neuroscience, July 2023).
Memory and smells
The olfactory system has a unique characteristic, namely that of being directly connected to the brain's memory circuits.
Therefore, smells and brain function are intimately related and one can stimulate the other. Previous scientific research has shown that making people with dementia smell 40 different odors, twice a day, improved their memory and language ability, as well as reducing depression. However, as indicated by the authors of the study we are talking about today, as exciting as these results are, it is very difficult, if not almost impossible, to ask people to smell odors from 40 different bottles, one after the other, twice a day and for long periods of time. This is where research from the University of California, Irvine, comes into play, which paves the way for new methods to support memory.
Essential oils can improve memory while we sleep
The research involved 43 adults, all between 60 and 85 years old and healthy. Every evening, for 6 months, before going to sleep, half of the volunteers were asked to activate an essence diffuser designed to release an essence into the air of the bedroom for two hours while the volunteers slept. The essential oils used were rose, orange, eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint, rosemary and lavender. For each session, only one type of essence was released, which was then changed every day in rotation. The advantage therefore of this experiment is to use only one essence at a time and during the night, without requiring particular actions during the day. The other half of the volunteers were asked to always use an essence diffuser, but containing only distilled water and very mild, almost imperceptible aromas. Well, what emerged is that at the end of 6 months, those who had breathed essential oils every day had an improvement in cognitive function equal to 226%. In particular, improvements have been observed in memory and, based on medical diagnostic investigations, also in the part of the brain, called the uncinate fasciculus, responsible for making the information stored in memory interact with the frontal lobe to guide it in its ability to make decisions. This part weakens with age while it was found to be more intact following the inhalation of essential oils. Not only that, inhaling essential oils also made it possible to improve the quality of sleep and stimulate deep sleep.
The research is really promising and has been able to demonstrate that inhaling, for two hours during sleep, some essential oils, such as rose, orange, eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint, rosemary and lavender, has allowed, in 6 months, to improve the cognitive functionality in a truly significant way. What has been observed refers to healthy people and a subsequent study will be dedicated to examining the effects on people with cognitive impairment and dementia. But the results seen so far are really hopeful! The strength of this research is that it is based on an action that we can all put into practice, every day in our home at night while we sleep, with the help of an essence diffuser and a couple of bottles of essential oils.