Aromatherapy Oils Help Memory and Cognition

Study finds that exposure to scents can be beneficial.


Health, Study
Lavender essential oils can help your memory.

(AS Foodstudio /

Aromatherapy scents can help calm you or rejuvenate you depending on which essential oil you use. But did you know that it can actually help improve your memory?

In a new clinical study, published in the journal  Frontiers in Neuroscience, researchers from University of California, Irvine set out to find if an aromatherapy regimen before bed could improve cognitive skills and memory in senior adults.

 Building on previous work, the researchers knew that the cognitive decline in some forms of dementia is accompanied by a loss of smell, according to Medical News Today. It was natural to see if regular exposure to scents – a practice called olfactory enrichment – could have beneficial results for older people.

The findings were surprising. There was actually a 226 percent improvement in cognitive scores of the study’s participants while they used the aromatherapy treatments,

Conducting the study
The researchers studied 43 people – all healthy male and female seniors with no cognitive issues between the ages of 60 and 85 –, according to a blog on Psychology Today. Twenty of the participants underwent two hours of aromatherapy a night. There were seven different essential oils – rose, orange, lemon, peppermint, eucalyptus,  rosemary and lavender – used on a rotating basis of a different one per night for six months.

The findings of the new study support previous research that olfactory stimulation could be a way to manage cognitive decline and behavior in seniors with dementia. That’s because smell, unlike other senses, is linked directly to white matter pathways in the brain. This plays an important role in learning and encoding memory. It is these pathways that deteriorate due to aging or neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.

Dr Michael Leon, professor emeritus of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California Irvine, and senior author on this study, explained to Medical News Today that “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.”

Scents can also influence your sleep
Smell can also affect how long it takes to fall asleep, sleep quality and quantity, according to the Sleep Foundation organization. Distinct scents could promote better sleep and even improve your memory and how well you learn.

Some aromatherapy scents work better than others in promoting sleep, These include lavender and rose, as well as others. In fact lavender and rose were two of the essential oils used in the recent study. Other scents help you wake up refreshed in the morning, due to better sleep quality,  including rosemary and peppermint, two more of the essential oils that were trialed.

More research is needed in how aromatherapy scents can help both sleep and cognition but this is a very good start for people who have impaired sleep and memory especially since insomnia is linked to physical and mental symptoms. Who knew that the cure could be as simple as stopping to smell the roses.

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