Engaging at Home™

Our Brain Loves Our Senses

seniors staying connected
Our brain is amazing; it weighs about three pounds, is an organ, has 100 billion neurons, and is the essence of everything that makes us: our intelligence, emotions, memories, and more. The brain receives information through the five senses, interprets these signals, and initiates things like body movement or behavior. Think how fast a signal reaches the brain when you touch or get near something hot.  

But the brain isn't done there – it stores this memory and records your reaction so the next time you approach something hot, you recall your previous experience. The brain is the engine that drives our entire body, but it is not just a receiving station for sensory signals. What we see, hear, and feel is constantly shaped by emotions, memories, moods, and beliefs.  

Nature.com reported on a study that proved a link between senses and memories. "The key researchers claim is that memories relating to an event are scattered across the brain's sensory centers, and if one of the senses is stimulated to evoke a memory, other memories featuring other senses are also triggered."  

Sights, sounds, and smells can all evoke emotionally charged memories. A new study suggests why: According to LiveScience, the same part of the brain that's in charge of processing our senses is also responsible, at least in part, for storing emotional memories.  

Why do we associate things with smells? Verywellmind.com reminds us that scientists believe scent and memory are closely linked because the brain's anatomy allows olfactory signals to get to the limbic system quickly. Experts say the memories associated with smells tend to be older and thought about less often, meaning the recollection is very vivid when it happens.  

Familiarity is comforting-using familiar smells, and sounds can reduce anxiety for persons affected by dementia. The National Institute of Health published a study conducted in London, England, on April 17, 2022, that there is evidence that exposure to odors and familiar sounds (music) can trigger memories of personal past experiences, which can result in the reduction of anxiety.  

From a practical standpoint, we know that transitioning a loved one affected by dementia from their favorite chair to the car (for a doctor's appointment, for example) can be traumatic. Allow five minutes to sit with them and play their favorite song. Sing along-get that tune in both of your brains and sing it on the way out the door to the car. Instead of telling them, "we are running late, we have to hurry," spend a few moments in a familiar, calm, and comforting way. It may make all the difference in the rest of the day!
Engaging at Home™ provides an at-home engagement program bringing love, compassion, and validation to those affected by dementia and their families. Reach us via email at info@engagingathome.com or by calling (602) 418-5196.
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