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The impacts of scenting in senior care

August 29, 2017
by Roel Ventura, ambient designer for Ambius
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Roel Ventura

For many families, the decision to place a loved one in a long-term care facility is difficult. They want to make sure their aging relative receives the best care available, which is something all senior care facilities strive to do. Because families are often hesitant to remove their loved one from the familiarity of home, providing a comfortable and welcoming environment takes on an equally important role in the decision-making process. The staff at senior care communities work diligently to meet and exceed family and resident expectations, but the realities of providing care for aging residents present staff with a variety of challenges that go beyond physical care.

It’s important to consider all options when working to create the best possible environment in a senior living community. Ambient scenting is an effective method from both a functional and experiential perspective. First impressions are important for families selecting a new home for loved ones, and the cleaning products employed to maintain a safe and healthy atmosphere leave many senior communities smelling like sterile hospital environments.

Leveraging the power of scenting is functional in neutralizing those unpleasant smells, but also can be a powerful experiential tool because of its ability to replace institutional odors with more pleasant scents that subtly enhance residents’ mood and stir up positive emotions.

The impact of ambient scenting can create a comfortable environment for families and friends whenever they visit loved ones. It may not be the No. 1 thing potential visitors notice when visiting, but it can subtly ease anxieties about seeing a loved one in a senior care community. Anything that makes families feel more comfortable and increases their likelihood of returning frequently is a positive.

While scent is important for friends and family, it can also play a big role in positive health outcomes for residents. Scents such as vanilla have been shown to relieve stress and promote relaxation, according to a 2005 study on the impact of fragrance on moods and physiology. This is important since anxiety, depression and other emotions can trigger symptoms that negatively affect health and lead to further complications for seniors.

Certain scents can also have a positive impact on cognitive function. For example, researchers have found people exposed to the fragrance of cinnamon improved performance in areas such as working memory, attention span and visual-motor response, according to a study conducted by Wheeling Jesuit University. The smell of cookies or fresh-baked bread have been linked to increased appetites in seniors. A recent observational study by Consumatics and Rentokil Initial found that exposing residents to the scent of fresh bread before or during meals created a five percent drop in malnutrition levels in residents over a six-month period.

Malnutrition affects more than 10 percent of people over the age of 65, according to the European Nutrition for Health Alliance. Ambient scenting also can be especially beneficial for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurocognitive disorders where the stimulation from scents can improve appetite and serve as an important reminder to eat.

The positive impacts of scenting affects more than residents and their guests. Scenting also creates a more pleasant environment for the caretakers who are a senior care facility’s most valuable asset. Scents such as mint can improve mental clarity, which is crucial for nursing staff that needs to remain sharp to provide the best care for aging residents, notes the Wheeling Jesuit University study.

Pleasant smells improve mood and create a better working environment for staff throughout a senior care facility, and as any productivity expert can attest to, a more positive working environment leads to better quality of work. A happy, productive staff is better equipped to handle the challenges of serving aging residents and can help create a positive atmosphere.

From visitor impressions through the daily care of residents, ambient scenting can play a subtle but powerful role in helping senior care facilities provide the best possible service for their residents. Incorporating scenting solutions in several facility areas can play a functional role in mitigating some of the challenges of senior care and improve the experiential role of making the atmosphere more pleasant for residents, caregivers and guests.

Roel Ventura is an ambient designer for Ambius, specializing in ambient scenting solutions and interior plant designs for a variety of businesses, including hospitality and senior care properties.

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