The sense of smell is one of the most powerful senses we possess, and in the same way hearing a special song or savoring a particular food can trigger old memories and emotions, scent can have the same effect in a powerful way. The olfactory system has connections with two key areas of the brain closely associated with emotional memories, and can elicit responses instantaneously. Fragrance expert, Ruth Sutcliffe, has drawn on this knowledge to create the Essential Awakening Smell and Memory Kit, a tool that can be used by families and senior care providers to help individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia recall past experiences.

“I wanted to help the aging population through the sense of smell, as my mother had dementia and my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s,” Ruth revealed. “Being in the fragrance industry for 30 years, I realized the important connection between scent and these conditions, so after leaving Coty in 2014, I started working on this concept.”

The kit consists of six individual smells – grass, chocolate, mint, pineapple, cinnamon and jasmine – chosen because each were found to be extremely powerful memory triggers for everyone ranging from children to the elderly who have engaged in smell therapy. Each scent was produced by Firmenich, the world’s largest privately-owned fragrance and flavor company.

To use, the individual leading a session applies a small amount to one of the application blotters provided in the kit and passes it on to group participants. The session leader then asks questions designed to elicit characteristics of that smell and provides the group with clues, which are provided on information cards that come with the kit. Once the participants narrow down the smell, they are asked to share any memories that come to mind.

Through her volunteer work at various senior care centers, Ruth has seen first-hand how the smells she shares with residents stimulates conversations and engages individuals who would typically be reticent.

“The kit could be a very innovative way for families, volunteers and program directors for memory care to interact and elicit conversations with their parents, residents and loved ones,” said Ottavio Arancio, M.D., Ph.D of  Columbia University Medical Center.

The Essential Awakenings Smell and Memory Kit can be purchased online for $69.95 at A second edition of the kit, featuring six new scents, will be released in August.