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Schools and other educational institutions now regularly use commercial scent diffusers in classrooms and lecture theaters to enhance the learning experience. Previous scientific studies have already shown that smell can enhance the memory and help to clear the mind, and now some new research backs this up.

The latest study was carried out at the University of California, Irvine, The Times reports. It found that a group of 43 people between the ages of 65 and 80 who were exposed to pleasant smells such as lavender, peppermint and rosemary for several months performed better in learning and memory tests than those who were not. 

Scientists believe that this is because smell is the only sense that is directly linked to the limbic system, which is the area of the brain that processes memories and emotions. Over time, our sense of smell can become less powerful and this is associated with declining cognitive function. 

Research has shown that by exposing the olfactory system to different smells, the shape of the brain actually changes and the entorhinal cortex, a component of the temporal lobe memory system, becomes larger. 

The participants in the latest study, which was led by Cynthia Woo, were given aromatherapy diffuser devices containing essential oils to place in their bedrooms. The device emitted a range of pleasant fragrances, including eucalyptus, peppermint, rose, citrus, or lavender, on a rotating system for six months. 

The results showed that when compared to a control group, those who were exposed to the pleasant aromas did significantly better in tests that were designed to evaluate verbal learning and memory. They were also signs of changed brain activity in the areas that can be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. 

The results of the study were published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience. The authors acknowledge that while the scale of the study was small, the promising outcomes merit further research. 

The report concludes: “We have shown that even minimal olfactory enrichment, delivered at night, is sufficient to induce an improvement in cognition and neural function. Our findings should stimulate larger scale clinical trials systematically testing the therapeutic efficacy of olfactory enrichment in treating memory loss in older adults.”

The use of scent diffusers in care homes and other healthcare settings has become increasingly popular in recent years to create a pleasant and welcoming environment for both residents and caregivers. 

This not only presents a professional and reassuring image of the establishment, but there is growing evidence that it can actually ease the distressing symptoms of cognitive decline that often afflict the residents.

Essential oils that emit agreeable ambient smells can be combined with products that neutralize bad odors, which can be an unavoidable result of healthcare activities. This is particularly useful in care homes to avoid unpleasant associations for visitors and residents and to reinforce the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. 

Ambient background fragrances are now also commonly used in classrooms to create a calming atmosphere that can reduce stress and anxiety and help both teachers and students to focus.

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