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July 22, 2020 7 min read

I knew the Essential Awakenings® Activities business would be devastated by the new coronavirus.  Assisted Living Communities and nursing homes such as where my mother in law lives, would be locked down and it was unknown for when Recreational Directors could coordinate or offer activities for their residents again. Everyone...especially small businesses and entrepreneurs like me were petrified on how we could brace for the worse, and possibly pivot our businesses for survival.  I want to share the following story of how I have pivoted during this pandemic:

The Repost That Lit The Fire:  In mid March, a Facebook friend reposted SPANX founder Sara Blakeley's post about Isaac Newtown's inventions during the 1665 pandemic, and I knew instantly he telling me that it was time to think about innovation.  

Connecting The Dots:  In late March, I read an article in the local newspaper about Chris Tillett, who was the first known COVID-19 case in Connecticut.  The article revealed that Mr. Tillett had been in a medically induced coma for a lengthy period of time, and when he was finally released from the hospital he would have a lengthy period of recuperation.  The article also indicated he had lost his sense of smell and taste. The article lead me to recall Rosie Rosario (featured in this blog's image) who was a former Coty colleague who suffered several aneurysms after running marathons in 2018.  When I discovered she had lost her sense of smell, I sent a private message to her asking if she wanted to use the Essential Awakenings® Smell and Memory kits to practice her smelling and see if it would help stimulate her sense of smell. Like most people with anosmia, she was open to trying anything, so I sent her the 2 kits that included 12 distinctive scent prompts and suggested she have her son give her "blind" smelling sessions every day. The blind smelling regimen included smelling the scents rolled on a paper strip without knowing what the scent was and she would have to try to detect, describe and identify the aroma.  If she could not detect or describe the aroma, her son would give her hints (i.e, for mint:  It's served as a garnish with iced tea). At first, Rosie couldn't smell or recognize any of the scent prompts, but as she continued this daily regimen, she was gradually able to recognize an increasing amount of the scent prompts. After 5 months, Rosie reported that she felt she had regained most of this function back.  It was because of Rosie's successful outcome that I decided to reach out to Mr. Tillett and his wife who I found on Facebook. I sent a private message to her and they were receptive to the opportunity.  That very same day, I packed up the kits and included a "Get Well Card" with simple instructions for usage, and drove up to their home in Wilton for a hand delivery right into their mailbox. I waited two weeks before I checked in with them to ask how things were going...and then two weeks later after that, I was pleased to hear that he had reclaimed his sense of smell, and according to his wife, "it (the regimen) has helped so much!"

Why Is The Sense Of Smell Important In Our Lives?:  Neuroscientist and expert in the psychology of sense of smell and taste, Dr. Rachel Herz and others in this field of research know that the sense of smell is tied to emotion and to our wellbeing. During the early phase of the pandemic, scientists started to discover that more and more victims of the virus had anosmia (the lost sense of smell and taste), and eventually the WHO and CDC listed it as one of the coronavirus symptoms. What followed, were quite a few articles from media empires such as the BBC, Wall Street Journal, NY Times and medical journals about the loss of sense of smell and taste.  One COVID-19 survivor who has been on several television shows has said he still has not regained his sense of smell and that even a banana tastes like cardboard. In early April, I experienced a diminished sense of smell and lost my sense of taste (from a virus, but not COVID-19), and the only flavor or sensation I had from food or drink was from either cardboard or the "zing" of a black pepper-infused Tequila brand called Ghost became that I became emotionally excited by, that it is now kept in stock in my home! 

Making That First Step:  It was through my own personal experience and of reading and research that prompted me to contact a neuroscientist who I have known from the fragrance and flavor industry, Dr. Rachel Herz and asked her if she would develop a "Smell Training Guide" for Essential Awakenings® Smell and Memory kits.  or people who have lost their sense of smell due either to COVID-19, head trauma, strokes and aneurysms, such as for Rosie Rosario.  

The following section is an excerpt from the Essential Awakenings® Smell Training Guide developed for me by Dr. Rachel Herz, who an expert on the psychology of the sense of smell and professor at Brown University:

Why Our Sense of Smell is so Important

"Our sense of smell is involved in all aspects of our life. It is critical for our enjoyment of food. Our sense of taste just comprises the sensations of salty, sour, sweet and bitter; the flavor of bacon is due to the taste of salt plus the complex aroma of bacon. Our sense of smell is critically involved in our emotional and mental health due to the unique links between the processing of smell and the processing of emotions.  Our sense of smell is essential for our physical health because scents enable us to detect a variety of dangers, and specific smells, due to their emotional associations, can also have positive (or negative) effects on the functioning of our immune system. Our sense of smell is intimately involved in our social and interpersonal behavior and plays a key role in romantic attraction, and bonding with children and family. Our sense of smell is also directly involved in higher levels of thinking and has pronounced effects on cognition, memory and spatial orientation.  Most fundamentally our sense of smell give us a sense of our self, our feeling of connectedness with others, and is a central component to the overall quality of our life. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize how important their sense of smell is until they lose it.

How we Lose our Sense of Smell

There are numerous ways that our sense of smell can be damaged or lost. The technical term for total smell loss is “anosmia”.  The most common cause for anosmia is through viral infections and sinus growths. We can also lose our sense of smell by being exposed to environmental toxins and even certain medications. Another way that the sense of smell can be lost is from head injuries or as a symptom of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.  All of us to varying degrees will experience a decrease in our sense of smell as we enter our golden years, similar to the way normal aging affects our vision and hearing. Sometimes smell loss is temporary and can spontaneously recover such as when we recover from an illness, sinus blockages are removed, or when we are no longer exposed to certain medications or pollution. However, the doctrine has traditionally been that it is not possible to recover from more permanent forms of anosmia. New research breakthroughs now challenge this presumption.  Considerable research has revealed that there is a treatment method for people who seem to have permanent anosmia that enables them to regain their sense of smell. The treatment method is “smell training”.

Smell Training for Regaining Your Sense of Smell

Many research studies have recently demonstrated that smell training can help people with anosmia recover their sense of smell. Smell training has been shown to improve all aspects of smell functioning including detecting that a scent is there, knowing that one scent is different from another scent, and recognizing what the specific scent is.  In addition to helping people recover from anosmia, smell training can help anyone develop a better sense of smell." -  Dr. Rachel Herz


Everything Must Evolve:  Essential Awakenings® Smell and Memory Kits were originally developed to engage seniors living with dementia in a fun, stimulating activity that encourages socialization, storytelling and recall of memories through its distinctive smell prompts.  Due to the Coronavirus, seniors in assisted living communities for memory care have been on lockdown and social activities are non-existent.  Being able to "pivot" and provide Essential Awakenings® as a tool for people who have experienced anosmia is just another way I can help improve the lives of people through the sense of smell.  The following is a list of the scent prompts in the kits and memory recall they provide:

Cinnamon:  The holidays, baking, candied apples

Apples:  Family time of apple picking and baking apple pies

Chocolate:  Almost any holiday you can imagine might have chocolate incorporated.  And how about its significance on Valentine's Day?

Lilac:  One of the first scented flowers that bloom in spring

Popcorn:  Watching movies with family - at home or at the movie house

Lavender:  Visiting France, lavender sachets, English Lavender soap

Pineapple:  Vacations in the tropics...pina coladas and pineapple rings on ham during holiday time

Pine:  The smell of winter and walks in the woods

Vanilla:  Baking with the extract, vanilla candles, vanilla ice cream

Mint:  An uplifting smell, mint juleps, mint garnishes, mint tea

Jasmine:  An ingredient in many aspirational perfumes (Joy) and vacations to warmer climates

Grass:  Baseball games, picnics, soccer, freshly mown 

So this ends the blog for the month of June.  I admit that I struggled writing it.  I had brain freeze probably due to the anxiety that so many of us have during this terrifying and troubling time.  I've also started a private Facebook Group (that anyone can join) called "Scent And Wellbeing With Ruth Sutcliffe".  If you are on Facebook, please feel free to drop in, read some of the articles I post and react to discussions regarding scent and wellbeing.  Above all, stay safe, healthy and enjoy the summer months ahead while practicing mindful smelling! 

- Ruth, The Scent Guru




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