The nose knows: Exposure to certain fragrances during sleep can help your brain work better, says study

The nose knows: Exposure to certain fragrances during sleep can help your brain work better, says study

In the realm of human senses, scent is often pushed to the peripheries, receiving far less attention than sight and sound.

However, research from the University of California, Irvine suggests that harnessing the power of fragrances could be a simple yet stellar strategy to maintain cognitive function in old age.

By enhancing the air with various scents, a direct connection between memory and decision-making regions of the brain can be fortified, potentially offering a defence against cognitive decline and disorders like dementia, according to Science Alert.

Recent experiments conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have unveiled compelling evidence pointing to the role of fragrances in boosting cognitive performance.

This approach stems from the understanding that nurturing the ageing brain's activity is crucial for sustaining cognitive well-being.

This involves more than just engaging in routine mental exercises; it entails immersing our surroundings with a plethora of sensory experiences that the brain can engage with.

The olfactory-brain nexus

Aromas possess the remarkable ability to evoke potent memories, even from distant pasts. While visual and auditory impairments are addressed through interventions like glasses and hearing aids, there has been a notable absence of interventions for olfactory loss.

To explore the potential of sensory stimulation in preserving cognitive function, Yassa and his team conducted a study involving 20 participants.

These volunteers were exposed to natural oils infused with fragrances such as rose, orange, eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, and lavender.

Another group received a 'sham' odorant with minimal scent traces.

Over six months, participants used a diffuser to disperse these scents in their homes for two hours every night. Neuropsychological assessments were employed to evaluate memory, verbal learning, planning, and attention-switching abilities before and after the trial period.

Exploring neuroplasticity through scents 

The concept of enriching environments to stimulate cognitive plasticity isn't new, especially in the animal kingdom.

Various studies have demonstrated that introducing odours into an animal's environment can enhance neuroplasticity, particularly in creatures exhibiting symptoms akin to human neurological disorders.

This observation opens the door to the idea that humans, too, could benefit from a complex “scent-scape.”

Interestingly, there's a close correlation between the deterioration of olfactory ability and cognitive decline, hinting at a profound interconnection between the sense of smell and neurological functioning.

Kenn Lang'at

Passionate educator and journalist, inspiring minds and uncovering stories worldwide