My quest to develop the Essential Awakenings® Smell.Recall.Connect as the first aroma-based activity for caregivers, families and Assisted Living Communities helping seniors living with dementia has been a long road, but I can now say that what I have developed is definitely showing results and bringing joy to seniors in a big way. Even though the original plan was to provide smell prompts to recall memories, its purpose and outcome has broadened and it has become a vehicle for a social activity that facilitates conversation and storytelling.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, studies show that people who stay connected with the most social interaction experience the slowest rate of memory decline, and that "a rich social network provides sources of support, reduces stress, combats depression and enhances intellectual stimulation." Essential Awakenings® was a project of passion-with-a-purpose that was spawned after my mother died of dementia- related causes in 2016, but the seed for a sensory-based activity for seniors had already been planted years before, when I realized I saw loneliness and desperation in the eyes of my mother and others living in the Assisted Communities where she lived for over 7 years until her death.
The Essential Awakenings® Smell.Recall.Connect development required endless hours of planning, research, and walking the walk. I started giving smelling sessions at communities in my area in 2017, and whenever I travelled, I made advance cold-calls to communities in my destination to schedule sessions. By doing so, I have been able to bring the magic of aroma to seniors living in New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky and Florida! It was through this process that I was able to determine just which aromas would resonate the best by garnering the most conversation and positive memories. I endured many sleepless nights of worrying of the chance of success, and there were days where my nerves were often on edge because I knew I would be taking a sizable financial risk if I were to go forward in manufacturing. I almost decided to call it quits, but realized that I had come so far, with so much work already behind me and knew I was enriching the lives of a countless number of people along the way, that one day I just decided to "just do it". As Shark Barbara Corcoran has said, "Creating a business is all about taking risks." So I proceeded to dig into my personal funds, took a deep breath, and marched forward with production one step at a time. To this date, I have given more than 80 smelling sessions with more than 1000 people in attendance and have sold kits as far away as Singapore and New Zealand.
So what are the actual benefits are for this new activity for seniors? Besides building the awareness of the value of our sense of smell, seniors share memories, interact in conversation regarding these memories and tell stories of their family traditions, vacations, experiences growing up or even tell us about their favorite perfume. The point is, they are connecting with each other. As an example, I'm including anecdotes and testimonials from some of the most remarkable moments from Essential Awakenings® sessions:
"My sense of smell helped save my life in Vietnam." - As told by Tim in a smelling session at Riverhouse Senior Center in Cos Cob, CT
When smelling mint, Vince R. of ComForCare Agency in Stamford, CT said: "This takes me back to my honeymoon in Morocco." When I asked him when he last talked about mint tea in Morocco, he responded "26 years ago."
"It is really a successful tool to create a conversation....and to engage the staff with the ladies. Karlette said the pine smelled like her grandmother’s bathroom in Jamaica. She did not expect to be so moved. This memory got the ladies talking about grandmothers. It is a very profound experience.” Thank you for getting it for us. - Donna Booth, Program Manager, Abilis, Greenwich, CT
“Our elders living in our home have enjoyed the smell and memory kits. It has been great way to interact with them and reminisce about what these smells mean to them. I really appreciate your time with us in May. Thanks again!” - Gretchen Houchin, Dir. Community Development, Nazareth Home, Clifton, KY
For more reading about the benefits and joy of scent and memory recall, the link below is a recent article about the CEO of International Flavors & Fragrances being honored for initiating a concept for the diffusion of aroma to elicit memories of a baseball game at the Hebrew Home For The Aging. I am particularly thrilled about this article, as I had the pleasure of giving Essential Awakenings® Smell.Recall.Connect sessions at the Hebrew Home in 2017 and 2018: