It ‘smells’ like a walk in the woods!

 “Smell is so powerful, you know. My grannies would both bake things like shortbreads and cookies. I think whenever I smell those kinds of things it really takes me back to my childhood.” ~ Curtis Stone

I  met with a representative from ScentAir—a company that specializes in bringing scents into a variety of environments. I felt convicted and excited about bringing this new and innovative experience into Carolina Assisted Living Community.

As my representative and I met the second and third times to explore and determine what scent was just “right,” he shared many of his own personal experiences with other Assisted Living communities where he had witnessed the remarkable results of stimulating the residents through the sense of smell.

  • In one Assisted Living, he had returned to remove a unit he had left for one month as a sample. As he came in the door, he saw a large group of residents at one end of the room all huddled around a small space. He thought it a bit out of the ordinary, but continued on to where he had left his unit. As he walked toward that area, he realized these residents were  gathered around the very unit he was coming to remove. They were  drawn to the scent that was being emitted, as it was somehow speaking to them and at some level taking them to a unique and desirous place. They knew that whatever it was, they wanted to be near it, and they wanted to be near one another!
  • In another assisted living, there was a woman who could engage in a clear  conversation, but she had no memory whatsoever of the past…not even what may have occurred just hours or minutes ago. The scent that was being broadcast through this community was “fresh cut grass.” With this scent now in the air, this woman began to speak of her grandfather on the farm. Over the next few minutes and in great detail she shared  memories that were elicited by the mere scent of this fresh cut grass. The caregivers had tears in their eyes as this was the first time they had observed her having a true memory  that she was able to share.

This is why I am so excited that our own ScentAir units were just put in place. After a couple hours of test “smelling,” we chose “A Walk in the Woods” as our signature scent.

I will be secretly observing and noting any changes in the overall mood and feel in the coming weeks!

“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains.” ~ Diane Ackerman

The Faculty of Nursing, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia did an 18-month study utilizing aromas in the following ways– Bath, Inhalation, Diffusion, Massage, Spritzer.  Their findings included specific improvements, including:

  • increased alertness
  • self-hygiene
  • contentment
  • initiation of toileting
  • sleeping at night
  • reduced levels of agitation,withdrawal and wandering.
  • Family caregivers have reported less distress, improved sleeping patterns and feelings of calm.

We have not conducted our own studies yet. Some of us are in the process of becoming certified aromatherapists.  We have anecdotal evidence that indicates aromatherapy is effective.

But I wonder –   Is it effective because of the aromas alone? – Or could it have something to do with the intentional and empathetic manner in which the aromas  are introduced?   Our care teams are studying, investigating, and seeking solutions to meet the needs and desires of the elders.  They are noticing when an elder is demonstrating an unmet need and responding by being present, eye contact, empathetic listening, respect, and tender care.

Whether it is the aromatherapy or the intentional person-centered approach and empathetic communication – or both,  the results matter.  We know we are making connections. We are in relationship with elders in our care, and we are inspired by the opportunity to learn the lessons the elders are teaching us every day.

And some beautiful aromas make the day happier for all of us!

About the Author:  Eileen English is the administrator at Carolina Assisted Living in Appleton Wisconsin.

Eileen has worked with elders for more than 40 years and feels her work is a passion, not a job. She was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, and later became a Coast Guard wife – eileen-wilsonwhich took her all over the country. She has lived in many states but is happy to now be in Wisconsin near two of her grandchildren. In her free time, Eileen enjoys being outside hiking, kayaking, camping, and spending time with her two sons and three grandchildren. (Carolina Assisted Living is part of the Compass Senior Living family)