The sense of smell was never on the forefront of daily news until the world got hit by COVID-19. This spring, reports surfaced that scientists were discovering that the lost sense of smell, called anosmia, was a prevalent symptom and an often lingering after effect of the virus. In late April, the CDC added the lost sense of smell (and taste) to its list of common symptoms and according to a May 20th article from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, up to 80% of people who test positive for COVID-19 have complaints of smell and taste loss.
In March, the new coronavirus hit the New York Metro area and stress and fear levels were at the highest since September,11th. We were stunned by something that we had not encountered before, and little was known about it. I recall feeling like I was living in an episode of "The Twilight Zone”: Streets were empty, no planes flew overhead and I, like so many others was sitting in my office in panic mode trying to grasp the new "now" thinking about how to manage my business through this crisis that we did not know anything about. Both sensory kits I developed are intended to be used by Speech and Occupational Therapists, educators and Program Directors caring for what we know as the most vulnerable of populations to COVID-19: The elderly, and children with developmental disabilities. In mid-March, assisted living communities went on lock down and anyone with an elderly parent in a nursing home or assisted living community were barred from seeing them. All activities and social events were cancelled and we did not know when we would be able to see my mother-in-law Evelyn again. For me, it was freak out time.
Always an avid researcher, I started searching for articles from the BBC, WHO, CDC and NIH and noticed that quite a few articles mentioned that many victims of the virus were experiencing lost sense of smell as a symptom and some reported that even after 3-5 months were still without this important function. I soon realized that I could possibly repurpose Essential Awakenings® Smell and Memory Kits for people with anosmia because after all, it had been useful to a former colleague (Rosie Rosario featured in the image) to regain her sense of smell after she survived several aneurysms in 2018. It took Rosie about 5 months to regain 85% of her sense of smell, and in a video that can be seen on The Scent Guru Group Facebook page, Rosie says “the brain is like a muscle and you have to exercise that muscle”. Scientists and medical professionals such as rhinologists and otolaryngologists were soon saying that smell training could help accelerate the recovery of the sense of smell and is “worth a try”. I jumped right on it, and contacted Dr. Rachel Herz, a neuroscientist (and expert on the sense of smell) who I had met during my career at International Flavors and Fragrances to tell her about my sensory kits, and asked if she would develop a Smell Training Guide for my company. She agreed, and we quickly went into contract and Dr. Herz submitted a draft of a Smell Training Guide within days. We made just a few adjustments to the guide for approval, published it, and I made necessary adjustments to my website, social media pages, and started the necessary communication to inform the public that the sensory kits with smell training guide was available. (The guide is complimentary with the purchase of the kits that consists of 6 sensory prompts and a packet of paper smelling strips).
We are now going into 10 months of this pandemic and we have learned and experienced so much loss, grief and turmoil. I personally know 10 people who have had the virus and one friend lost both his mother and father within 10 days back in May. I among so many, are experiencing COVID fatigue and worry on a daily basis about others who I love, my neighbors and the frontline workers that include pharmacy, grocery store, postal and transportation workers, teachers, caregivers and medical staff who are tirelessly working to keep things going. The best we can do for fellow human beings is to practice mindfulness by being kind and respectful to each other, follow science, wear our masks and get those vaccinations when it’s our turn. I am also going to help support local restaurants and stores with hopes that this will all be over soon!
As we all learn to navigate this pandemic, we can also learn to repurpose and add value to the tool we currently have access to: Just as Essential Awakenings® can be used for smell training, MindScent® can be useful to parents who might be homeschooling.
To end this blog, I’d like to share testimonials from people who have used Essential Awakenings® Smell & Memory Kits for Smell Training in the past couple of months (their email addresses are deleted for their privacy):
-Cristina M. Young, L.C.S.W.