This blog discusses the various ways Essential Awakenings® Smell & Memory Activities and Kits can help enhance the lives of seniors living with dementia: As a vehicle for storytelling, socialization, connectivity and communication. Plus, how the awareness of the sense of smell can save your life.
Well here we are...the end of September, and fall is officially here. I admit that Spring is my favorite season because it signifies the reawakening of warmer weather, colors and plant life, but fall is a close second because of the cooler weather, colorful leaves, and sweater nights, but it’s also the warning that the cold days of winter are coming and it’ll be time for hibernation. To prepare myself for the months ahead, I decided to take a road trip to see parts of the country that I have not seen, and to finally see my daughters who I have not seen since December! I decided that this trip would be one that would revive my soul and get me prepared for the months ahead. Along the trip, I smelled everything from cattle farms and freshly mown hay going through Pennsylvania, to the cool crisp water of Lake Erie in Cleveland, and then the wonderful leathery smell of Kentucky Bourbon. With these types of sensory experiences, my thoughts always go to those who are not able to enjoy it. Which is why I think I have to concoct more of these types of scents for my smelling sessions. The brainstorming of new scents must begin! With COVID-19 still looming, assisted living communities are struggling to get back to a regular schedule of activities, and those that do occur are often virtual. We are living in a Zoom, Facebook and Google Chat world, and I’m ready to adjust to this new normal for Essential Awakenings® Smell and Memory activities. It may sound almost impossible, but it is not. This is what you’ll need, and how it can be done: 1). The ALC or Senior Center will need a large computer screen, and the Zoom Ap, or any other preferred. I use Zoom, but can use others too. 2). The Essential Awakenings® kits: A 1st and 2nd Edition with 6 scents each that I carefully selected based on their ability to spark conversation and also as scents that resonate with as many people as possible who come from diverse geographical and cultural backgrounds. 3). Most communities have Life Experience and/or Program Directors, sho I will need to communicate with them with regard to the sequence of scents so they can pre-apply the scents to the paper smelling strips and distribute them to the attendees during our activity session. 4). The Program Director and I will coordinate a time for a 40 minute session, for which I will send an email invitation with Log-in information. 5). To make the activity most effective, a small group per community is preferred (or whatever the current health allowances are for the community). The beauty of this activity is that multiple communities from different time zones within your organization can be present as well! I’m excited to think about how fun the interactions will be! Right now though, I will be completing my road trip to the Midwest so that I can hug my daughters and will be back to my home office mid-October. In the meantime, I’ll be working on finessing my tech savviness so as to gear up for sessions this fall and winter to help all of us get through the months ahead. The holidays are coming, so you can better believe I’ll have the smell of apples, pine, popcorn, chocolate and cinnamon on hand to tell stories of holiday happiness! As always, feel free to email me any time with questions and to start scheduling Essential Awakenings® sessions for the end of October through to Christmas. Weekdays are preferable. Have a wonderful autumn! - Ruth email: firstname.lastname@example.org
An Essential Awakenings® activity is easy to conduct. Anyone can do it, and a lot of it is instinctive. The smell prompts can be used as a guessing game that stimulates the mind and challenges the audience to think and express how they would describe the aroma or for storytelling time. Everyone has a story, and the facilitator can lead the way by telling their own stories connected to the aromas.
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...