Can nightly aromatherapy oil use improve memory?

Can nightly aromatherapy oil use improve memory?

Aromatherapy: Boosting Memory and Cognitive Abilities in Older Adults

Image Source: Medical News Today

In the United States, cognitive decline affects approximately 11.1% of the population, or one in nine adults. As we age, memory loss and confusion become more prevalent, often leading to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. However, new research suggests that a simple and enjoyable practice called olfactory enrichment, involving exposure to various scents, may help enhance cognitive abilities in older adults.

The Power of Scents

Some scientific studies have indicated that regular exposure to multiple scents or odorants can have beneficial effects on cognitive abilities, particularly in older adults. Termed “olfactory enrichment,” this practice stimulates the olfactory sense, which in turn stimulates the memory centers of the brain. The loss of olfactory stimulation has been linked to deterioration in these brain regions, while increasing odor stimulation has shown to improve memory.

Aromatherapy and Memory

A recent study conducted at the University of California, Irvine investigated the impact of a nightly aromatherapy regimen on cognitive skills in older adults. The study involved 43 participants aged 60-85 years who were in good general health with healthy cognition. The participants were divided into two groups: an experimental group exposed to essential oils nightly and a control group exposed to trace amounts.

Over a span of six months, the experimental group was exposed to a rotating selection of seven different essential oils each night as they slept. These oils included rose, orange, eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, and lavender. The control group, on the other hand, received minimal olfactory enrichment.

Promising Results

The study’s findings were remarkable. Participants in the olfactory-enrichment group showed a significant 226% improvement in performance on the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test, a word list recall test used to assess verbal learning and memory. Additionally, the researchers observed improved functioning in the left uncinate fasciculus, a brain pathway crucial for learning and memory that typically deteriorates with age and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study’s senior author, Dr. Michael Leon, professor emeritus of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine, explained, “It was known that the loss of olfactory stimulation causes the memory centers of the brain to deteriorate, and it turns out that increasing odor stimulation improves the memory centers of the brain along with memory.”

Olfactory Enrichment as a Low-Cost Approach

Based on these exciting findings, the researchers suggested that olfactory enrichment through aromatherapy could serve as a cost-effective public health program to reduce neurological risk in older adults. Dr. Mark Moss, head of the Department of Psychology at Northumbria University, noted that the rotation of aromas on a nightly basis provides environmental enrichment, which has been shown to impact brain structure and memory.

However, it is important to note that not all studies investigating olfactory enrichment have produced the same improvements in cognitive function. Some studies have revealed mixed results, emphasizing the need for further research to understand the full potential and limitations of this approach.

Considerations and Limitations

While the results are promising, it is essential to consider the limitations of the study. The sample size was relatively small, with only 23 participants contributing data for the cognitive analyses. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many participants from returning for cognitive assessments, further reducing the size of the dataset. It is necessary to conduct larger, fully powered trials to draw firm conclusions.

Dr. Aimee Spector, professor of old-age clinical psychology at University College London, also mentioned that the absence of cognitive impairment in the study’s participants limits the likelihood of significant changes in cognitive function.

Exploring Aromatherapy

If you are interested in trying aromatherapy to potentially enhance memory and cognitive abilities, it may be worth considering. Aromatherapy is a safe and enjoyable practice that can also have positive effects on sleep quality. However, it is important not to expect definite improvements, as individual responses may vary. In the study, only half of the participants who received the aroma intervention experienced improved memory after six months.

In conclusion, olfactory enrichment through aromatherapy shows promise as a low-cost approach to reducing neurological impairment in older adults. By stimulating the memory centers of the brain, this practice may help combat cognitive decline and improve overall cognitive function. However, further research is necessary to understand the full extent of these benefits. So, why not give aromatherapy a try and enjoy the delightful scents while potentially boosting your memory?