NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Could smell be the key to unlocking memories for people with dementia?
That’s exactly what the Hebrew Home in the Bronx has found.
CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez explored how aromas from the old Yankee Stadium are unlocking long-buried memories.
We’ve all had the experience of smells taking us back in time: Maybe it’s cooking baking that reminds us of grandma.
Neuroscience tells us that the sense of smell is closely associated to memory centers in the brain. So why not use aromas to counter age-related memory loss?
A wall of aromas, or scents, that the Hebrew Home in Riverdale has added to their Yankee memorabilia corner is helping bring back memories for 68-year-old Al Cappiello.
“Brings back a lot of memories: Little league, my first mitt after its been broken in, wow,” Cappiello said.
There are seats from the old stadium, photos of past Yankee greats, jerseys too. But it’s the smells of the game that really take the residents back.
“I was amazed, green grass… I still have that up here when I smell these,” Cappiello said.
The smells are professionally formulated by International Flavors & Fragrances. There are hot dogs, grass, leather mitts, popcorn and beer.
Social worker Molly Fogel of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America says the aromas are a form of reminiscence therapy. It doesn’t change the disease, but it does “provide an opportunity to go back in time, to be able to engage, whether it’s the individual living with the disease or the care partner, and be able to engage in a moment of joy. They may not be able to access that on an everyday basis.”
For Shelly Youner, the smells take her back to her first time at the ballpark and being amazed.
“It’s larger than on TV. Came home screaming ‘Guys that there’s room to run,'” said Youner, 80.
Clearly this improves quality of life for these seniors, but the president of RiverSpring Health, which runs the Hebrew Home, wants to show that it does more than that.
“We’re going to measure it scientifically,” Daniel Reingold, CEO of RiverSpring said. “Whether there’s memory improvement, less agitation, also senses of satisfaction.”
People with dementia usually have trouble with short-term memories, but long-ago memories are still in there, locked away.
This olfactory stimulation is a way to access them, and help patients feel more grounded and stable because they’re transported to a time when they weren’t sick.