When a fragrance wafted through the bedrooms of older adults for two hours every night for six months, memories skyrocketed. Participants in the study by neuroscientists reaped a 226% increase in cognitive capacity compared to the control group.
The University of California researchers in Irvine said the finding transforms the long-known tie between smell and memory into an easy, non-invasive technique for strengthening memory and potentially deterring dementia.
The study which was published in Frontiers in Neuroscience involved men and women aged 60 to 85 without memory impairment. All were given a diffuser and seven cartridges, each containing a single and different natural oil. People in the enriched group received full-strength cartridges. Control group participants were given the oils in tiny amounts. Participants put a different cartridge into their diffuser each evening prior to going to bed, and it activated for two hours as they slept.
People in the enriched group showed a 226% increase in cognitive performance compared to the control group, as measured by a word list test commonly used to evaluate memory. Participants also reported sleeping more soundly.
Brain imaging revealed better integrity in the brain pathway called the left uncinate fasciculus. This pathway, which connects the medial temporal lobe to the decision-making prefrontal cortex, becomes less robust with age.
Scientists have long known that the loss of olfactory capacity, or ability to smell, can predict development of nearly 70 neurological and psychiatric diseases—including Alzheimer’s and other dementias, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia and alcoholism. Evidence is also emerging about a possible link between smell loss due to COVID and ensuing cognitive decrease.
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