Why do smells sometimes trigger powerful memories?
The sense of smell is one of the most powerful senses that cannot be turned off. According to scientists, the reason smells are so powerful is that the olfactory system is located in the same part of our brain that affects memory, creativity and emotions.
Have you ever walked past a certain bush/plant and had memories pop up in your mind from long ago? The scent of lilacs makes me think of my mom; they were her favorite flower. She’s been gone for more than 10 years, but every time I walk by a lilac bush, I think of her.
I remember growing up, my parents had a lilac bush outside of their bedroom window. The fresh aroma wafted throughout our home when there was a strong breeze outside, and it was very calming and soothing. Lilacs make me think of my mom and the wonderful memories I have of her. Do you have a flower that brings back powerful memories?
Pictures also can have the same effect as smells with memories. According to scientists, pictures can help stimulate memories for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Looking at pictures can help them be engaged in the present moment and help them remember people in their lives.
For example, showing an Alzheimer’s patient a picture of a loved one can make them feel comfortable, pleasant and familiar. Photos help us remember the past, and they remind us of the people, places and activities we hold dear to us.
Patients who suffer from memory loss and amnesia of different kinds are given a camera to take pictures of their daily lives. After their day is done, they are able to analyze the pictures to recall their memories.
Within the first two weeks of quarantine, my daughter took it upon herself to organize the basement. She made sure all of the photos were organized neatly. She labeled each box with a Sharpie, and she made a pile for Goodwill for all of us to look through.
After the basement was organized, I decided to look at my children’s baby pictures; I wasn’t prepared for my emotions. My son just graduated from high school, so I thought I’d look at his baby pictures. I looked at his newborn photographs. My mom and sister were in the delivery room, along with my husband. The picture of my mom holding my newborn son, the happiness in her eyes, and the relief that I was OK, was the best memory ever.
Smells and pictures can bring a flood of memories almost immediately. I feel instantly transported to my childhood when I smell lilacs. I had no worries as a child, and my mom was alive and laughing. Looking at pictures of my mom, I still can remember her loud laugh and how much she loved me and my family.
“When someone you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure.” – Author unknown
• Amy Roach is a wife, mother and teacher living in Hennepin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.