By Judy Cesarski
Have you ever noticed a scent that immediately reminds you of a specific experience or time in your life? It’s not just you: Researchers have closely studied the connection between memory and our sense of smell, and they found certain scents can have a calming effect on the brain.
This finding is particularly interesting, as the population ages and the number of adults living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease continues to grow. There are currently 5.5 million Americans affected by Alzheimer’s, and according to the Alzheimer’s Association, this number could triple by 2050. In Florida, nearly 12 percent of the senior population has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Learning to live with a fading memory can be a scary and frustrating time for patients and their families. That’s where aromatherapy, or the use of scents for psychological or physical well-being, can make a difference. Aromatherapy can bring back the most elaborate memories for many people—no matter their age—and it can also help soothe negative feelings such as frustration, restlessness and agitation.
The Sheridan at Lakewood Ranch is one of many senior living facilities across the U.S. offering the award-winning Essence aromatherapy program to its residents. Essence draws on the sensory stimulation of certain scents that are proven to help alleviate stress, anxiety and depression, all while supporting healthy digestion and promoting positive emotional responses.
Residents enrolled in the two-month program attend weekly customized sessions, where essential oils are inhaled or applied to the skin to stimulate positive responses and address specific concerns. Although based on aromatherapy, Essence goes beyond the simple use of essential oils and also uses touch, sound, color, light and taste to provide a multisensory experience for each participant, focusing on the individual’s personal well-being and preferences.
This year, the program received the Argentum’s Best of Best award—a nationally renowned honor that recognizes innovative new programs and services that are working to improve the future of senior living—for its breakthrough approach to memory care.
It’s important to understand that as memories fade, it’s the everyday moments that matter most. As the Essence program stresses in its sessions with residents and their families, comfort comes from creating moments that are altogether authentic and enjoyable.
Memory loss is difficult to navigate, but an emphasis on experiences—and innovative approaches like aromatherapy—can help comfort dementia and Alzheimer’s patients and give them the powerful ability to feel like themselves again.
Judy Cesarski has been the memory care director of The Sheridan at Lakewood Ranch since July 2016, following a yearlong stint at a sister facility in Tampa. Previously, she worked as a therapeutic recreation director and life enrichment director for more than 20 years in Connecticut, where she also expanded an on-site, farm-to-table program for a continuing care facility.