On holidays, residents of Autumn View Gardens in Ellisville, Missouri, come together to enjoy their favorite foods and share cherished memories. We also encourage residents to attend one of the many special events that take place in Ellisville each year. No matter which holiday you're celebrating, scents play an important role in creating new memories and accessing old ones.
Even if you can't remember exactly what gifts you received as a child, there's a good chance you remember the smell of sugar cookies wafting through the house, the scent of potato latkes at Hanukkah or the aroma of your favorite candy at Halloween or Easter. Here are just a few examples of popular holiday scents.
For many people, autumn is all about visiting apple orchards, picking pumpkins and putting out fall decor. In the days leading up to Halloween, you may get a whiff of apple cider, apple pie or cinnamon. On Halloween itself, the smell of a candy bar can take you right back to the days of trick-or-treating around your neighborhood. Even the scent of candy corn evokes happy memories for many seniors.
When you think about Thanksgiving, what comes to mind? For many seniors, it's the smell of a homemade Thanksgiving feast — turkey, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes and all the fixings. Cinnamon is also a popular smell during this time of year, especially if you purchase fall-themed candles or a scented wreath for your assisted living apartment. If you enjoy baking, you may also associate Thanksgiving with the smell of cloves, nutmeg or vanilla.
If you celebrate Christmas, there's a good chance your happiest memories are associated with some type of holiday scent. Fresh snow, hot chocolate and cinnamon are just a few of the scents associated with the Christmas season. If you enjoy baking, you may have happy memories of making gingerbread people or rolling out the dough for your favorite Christmas cookies. For many people, the scent of pine or spruce evokes memories of gathering around a live tree and decorating it with loved ones.
For people who celebrate Hanukkah, food plays an important role in passing on cultural traditions. If you think back to your youth, you may remember the smell of potato latkes frying or brisket cooking in preparation for a Hanukkah meal. The smell of cinnamon apple cake is also popular during the Hanukkah season.
Easter takes place when spring flowers are starting to bloom, so your favorite memories of the holiday may be linked to floral scents. Hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and lilies are especially popular. If you have a sweet tooth, you may associate Easter with the scent of jelly beans, chocolate bunnies or marshmallow chicks.
There's a reason so many of your memories are linked to your favorite smells. According to Venkatesh Murthy, a professor at Harvard University, scents travel directly to your limbic system, the area of the brain responsible for emotional responses. There, each smell becomes deeply embedded in your memory.
If you're exposed to the same scent in the future, your brain will remember it, giving you a sense of comfort even if you don't remember exactly when you first encountered the scent or what was happening around that time.
Although holiday scents can bring back happy memories, many seniors develop scent sensitivities as they age, especially if they have COPD, asthma or other respiratory conditions. Exposure to strong scents may cause sore throat, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Some people with scent sensitivities report that certain smells also trigger migraine headaches or cause them to feel nauseated. If scent sensitivity is a concern, there are a few things you can do to avoid these effects.
Using wax melts is an easy way to make your apartment smell good and try to evoke some happy memories. These products get their smells from essential oils or fragrance oils, which means they may trigger your scent sensitivities. Therefore, you may want to avoid wax melts that smell like pine, balsam fir, cinnamon and other popular holiday scents.
During the Christmas season, you may notice your favorite stores have plenty of holiday-scented soaps, body washes, shampoos and body sprays. Baskets filled with scented bath products are also popular at this time of year. If you have a scent sensitivity, let your loved ones know you'd rather receive gifts without such strong scents.
If you can't avoid scents that trigger your symptoms, there are a few products that may help. Jars filled with odor-eliminating gel crystals absorb strong odors and contain no added fragrances. They're also inexpensive, making them ideal for seniors living on their retirement benefits. You may also want to consider getting an air purifier.
If a friend tends to wear strong perfumes to holiday parties and other special events, consider telling them about your scent sensitivity. They may be willing to go scent-free so you can spend the holidays together without aggravating your symptoms.
Special scents are an important part of enjoying the holidays. Next time a holiday comes around, spend at least a few hours with friends from the community. You'll have an opportunity to share some of your favorite memories and explain why certain scents are so important to you.
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