Dear Donna:

My mom was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. At this point, we are trying to learn more about the disease and if there is anything we can do to slow the progression. We are also trying to plan for her current and future care needs. It feels like a lot.

I recently caught the very end of a radio interview about using different smells to treat Alzheimer’s. It also covered how the sense of smell may be linked to neurological conditions, like dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Are you aware of any credible research on this topic? I’m trying to explore every avenue I can.


Elise in Pittsford Township, MI

Can Smells Impact Alzheimer’s?

Dear Elise:

While it sounds like you are on the right track in understanding and preparing for your mom’s long-term needs, it is understandable that you are feeling overwhelmed. It can be so much for families.

You’ve asked a great question regarding how smells may impact Alzheimer’s. It’s an interesting topic, for sure. Researchers have long believed the loss of smell, whether caused by environmental factors, age, sinus problems, or something else, can increase a person’s risk for certain neurological conditions. Those range from Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia.

The olfactory system, which is responsible for the sense of smell, is comprised of the nostrils, the ethmoid bone, the nasal cavity, and layers of tissue that line the nasal cavity. The olfactory system is also directly connected to the body’s limbic system, the area of the brain responsible for memory and emotion.

This proximity is one reason researchers are so interested in exploring the topic. One of the most recent studies is from the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Its lead researcher is Dr. Michael Leon, Professor Emeritus of the Institute of Memory Impairment & Disorders at UCI. He has been studying memory loss for over three decades.

Leon believes aging and memory go hand-in-hand with a sense of smell. It’s thought that as the ability to smell is diminished or lost completely, the brain is at risk for a host of health problems. While his team’s study was too small to reach a solid conclusion, the preliminary findings are encouraging.

People who received olfactory enrichment in the form of seven different diffused essential oils showed significant improvements in verbal learning and memory. In fact, when using the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT), the enrichment group showed a 226% difference in performance.

You can find and read the full study, “Overnight olfactory enrichment using an odorant diffuser improves memory and modifies the uncinate fasciculus in older adults,” online. It was published in Frontiers in Neuroscience on July 24, 2023.

I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if you have any more questions.

Kind regards,


Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities

Having a thoughtfully-designed, controlled environment helps adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia live their best quality of life. At Heritage Senior Communities, we offer specialized dementia care at our Michigan communities. Our person-centered approach to care includes dedicated programs, such as for dining services and life enrichment activities.

If you are searching for a memory care community for a Michigan loved one, we invite you to call the Heritage memory care community nearest you. One of our team members will be happy to arrange a tour and answer any questions you may have!