Having a Sense of Smell

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Walking out my front door, I catch a whiff of a sweet fragrance. The smell, courtesy of my blooming hackberry tree, is distinctive, a little heavier than the perfume that seems to envelope the area around the gardenia plant in my courtyard. And both are decidely different from the delicate odor offered by my blooming jasmine.

    I rarely stop to think about the integral part that smell plays in a life; in fact, my olfactory abilities probably are the least developed of my senses. And yet, the sense of smell is a key part of the brain, designed to bring joy (the smell of a loved one) or to warn of danger (just think of the contents of a dumpster filled with rotting food).
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    And, according to a psychologist who ran Mom through a battery of tests concerning her memory loss in 2004, the sense of smell originates in a part of the brain that often is attacked first by Alzheimer’s disease. So the sense of smell, long ignored in  the rush through life, has moved up in my awareness as I go though my daily activities.

    Adding scent to one’s days can be easy. Just start with cooking, where seasoning can scent the surroundings. Throw a little cinnamon or a sprig of rosemary into a dish that is cooking and take a deep breath. Crush a little mint and sniff. Taking a little time to add herbs and spices to food brings a multi-sensory appeal to the age old question, “What’s for dinner?”

    Being aware of fragrances also seems to invoke memories from my earlier years.  While cleaning house yesterday, I was transported by the smell of Old English furniture polish. In the recesses of my memory, I still can hear Mom coming to inspect the furniture that my childhood self had just completed dusting. “You missed a place,” she would say, as she added more furniture polish to the cloth in order to buff a corner of the coffee table. And if I open a bottle of Chanel No. 5, I instantly think of Mom dressing up to go out to dinner with Dad when I was a little girl.

    In the past year or so, I’ve even started developing games around the sense of smell. Almost on a daily basis, I try to “hide” from my minature schnauzer, Zoe. She scurries around the house looking for me, using her sight to try to spy the location where I might have wedged myself. Finally, Zoe will resort to her canine gift of smell, sniffing to try to determine if I’m located behind the closed door of the closet or huddled underneath a banket on top of the bed.

    For these and many reasons, smell – and the place it occupies in the brain – should not be taken for granted. Instead, we should breathe deeply and take in the wide variety of scents that daily life offers. I would also suggest that smell is one of the most important senses for a caregiver, simply because of the old adage: “Be sure to stop and smell the roses.”
Published On: June 05, 2007