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posted: January 29, 2007
When searching for a meaningful Valentine’s Day gift for an elderly loved one, don’t settle for the same old box of candies again. Instead, consider highly fragrant items that bring back happy memories.
Scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center say that as the most ancient of our senses, smell is highly evocative because the brain connects odors to emotional memories.
“Odors can act as potent keys to open doors to the past,” notes Pamela Dalton, PhD, a cognitive psychologist at Monell, a Philadelphia-based research institute.
Dalton suggests taking a few minutes to think back on past conversations, trying to identify specific details mentioned by your loved one about happy times or occasions. Then try to connect scents to those memories.
Or, she suggests, off-handedly initiate a conversation to identify favorite smells and their emotional connections. Your great-aunt may mention lavender because it reminds her of a long-ago honeymoon spent in the south of France. Or Mom might wistfully talk about the smell of your father’s after-shave lotion.
“The more specific the connection between odor and experience the better,” says Dalton, “because scent memories are very dependent on context.”
Because of their strong connections with emotional memories, scented gifts might be especially appreciated by older adults who have impairment of other senses, including cognitive limitations.
Scent-infused gifts for seniors can include fragrant flowers, scented lotions and personal care products, herbal pillows, or potpourri.
Whatever you choose, it’s likely that your senior will appreciate a highly fragrant gift, advises Monell behavioral neuroscientist Charles J. Wysocki, PhD, who notes that the sense of smell declines with advancing age.
“Seniors often rate odors as less intense than do younger people,” says Wysocki, noting that this decline begins for some smells about age 40 and continues across ensuing decades.
And lest you forget: Valentine’s Day is February 14.
© 2007 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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