Smelling coffee at a stall

Ideas to help a person with dementia to feel connected using scents and aromas

Scent can be a very evocative and powerful way to reminisce and make a connection.

A person’s senses can be affected by dementia, especially later on in the condition. However, even in the later stage of dementia, sensory activities could be a good way to make a connection with someone. 

Our sense of smell can be very powerful.

As well as bringing pleasure, some smells, like lavender, may help to soothe symptoms of dementia, such as sleeplessness and agitation. 

Evocative smells 

Scent can also be very evocative and a great tool for reminiscence, especially if you find smells that have a particular meaning for that person. 

These could relate to their upbringing or social life, like cooking aromas or someone’s perfume.

They could be natural smells like a plant that grew nearby, or smells from local industries – for example, of farmyards or breweries. 

Think about what they did at work and in their free time. If they did carpentry, the smell of sawdust may have strong associations for them.

Scents can also remind the person of holidays and happy occasions. For someone who enjoyed religious ceremonies, the smell of incense might be soothing. 

Home and away 

Perhaps you could take the person to visit places to enjoy the smells there. If they liked gardening, take them to a community garden.

Or, if certain cooking smells remind them of home, try a restaurant or market stall where that food is made. 

There may also be ways to bring smells to the person. Scented flowers or herb pots are a great way of bringing natural smells indoors.

There are also kits that use scent for reminiscence.

What you said 

On Talking Point, LynneMcV said,

‘My husband's sense of smell became compromised as dementia progressed but there were always some smells which brought him a sense of wellbeing. 

‘His father was a boat builder and could turn his hand to any kind of carpentry, so the smell of wood and varnish was part of my husband's childhood memories. I got him involved in a local Men in Sheds group, and the familiar smells of the workshop put him at ease. 

‘He had a particular aftershave that he loved to wear. I always put a quick squirt of it on his wrist and he would happily sniff it during the day.’ 

Carole Speirs in East Sussex, who’s organised many activity groups for people with dementia, says,

‘Often when a person is unable to communicate verbally, using the senses is a great way for them to feel included and part of a group.

‘Non-verbal cues such as smiling are often expressed in response to a familiar smell. A good one to use is the smell of freshly mown grass.

‘Old-fashioned perfumes and powders are very evocative for some. Dance halls and songs of long ago can be brought to life by the simple act of smell!’ 

Garden Joys scents and sounds set, available from our online shop, includes cut grass scent.

Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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