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7 aromatherapy oils linked to improved memory while sleeping.

7 aromatherapy oils linked to improved memory while sleeping.

  • Being regularly exposed to multiple scents—or olfactory enrichment—has shown promise in enhancing cognitive abilities in older adults.
  • However, not all studies have yielded consistent results.
  • A new study found that using aromatherapy essential oils such as lavender and rose nightly boosted word recall by 226% and improved the functioning of a key brain pathway that plays a role in learning and memory.
  • These findings suggest that olfactory enrichment may be a low cost approach to reduce neurological impairment in older adults.

In the United States, cognitive decline, which is characterized by confusion or memory loss, is estimated to affect 11.1%Trusted Source of the population, or one in nine adults.

Previous research has shown that cognitive decline is accompanied or even preceded by loss of sense of smell in various neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s diseaseTrusted Source, dementia, and Parkinson’s diseaseTrusted Source.

Some research indicates that regular exposure to multiple scents or odorants — a practice known as olfactory enrichment — can have beneficial effects on cognitive abilities in older adults.

In a new clinical study, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, examined if a nightly aromatherapy regimen for six months could improve cognitive skills in older adults.

They observed significant improvements in word list recall as well as improved functioning in the part of the brain known as the left uncinate fasciculus after olfactory enrichment with aromatherapy oils.

The study received funding from Procter & Gamble.

The findings were published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

For the study, the researchers recruited 43 participants, ages 60–85 years, who were in good general health with healthy cognition.

The participants were randomly assigned to two groups. The experimental group, made up of 20 individuals, was exposed to essential oils nightly. Meanwhile, the control group, made up of 23 participants, was exposed to trace amounts.

For six months, the participants were exposed to either a higher or lower concentration of essential oils nightly for two hours as they were going to sleep, using a nebulizing fragrance diffuser.

The diffuser rotated through seven different scents from The Essential Oil Company (Portland, Oregon), one for each day of the week: rose, orange, eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, and lavender.

All participants underwent a set of assessments at study entry (baseline) and after the 6-month intervention:

  • cognitive assessments, including a pattern separation test that assesses a person’s ability to distinguish between 2 similar stimuli
  • questionnaires on depression and quality of life
  • tests of olfactory performance
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to check for changes in brain structures and brain structural connectivity.
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