The power of scent in memory

Partnership between The Perfume Shop and Alzheimer’s Research UK launches.

Posted on 19th May 2014

A new fundraising partnership between The Perfume Shop and the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK has set out to explore the connection between scent and memory while raising funds for crucial research into dementia. The campaign will run across The Perfume Shop’s 262 stores nationwide between 17 and 26 May.

The sense of smell, or olfaction, can be easy to overlook with smell no longer as essential to our daily lives as other senses. But smell can fast track to a person’s past, and losing smells, which can be an early effect of diseases like Alzheimer’s, can mean losing emotions associated with the smell, with lifetime memories ultimately vanishing forever. The Perfume Shop and Alzheimer’s Research UK have been working with University College London (UCL) expert Dr Jason Warren to discover how scent and memory are linked.

“It has been widely reported that loss of the sense of smell can be an early sign of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” Dr Warren says, “and while the study of smell processing in Alzheimer’s is still in its infancy, there is some potential for smell to play a part in diagnosing and understanding the diseases that cause dementia.”

At UCL’s Dementia Research Centre, Dr Warren is spearheading research into olfaction, memory and dementia. One element of his work harnesses pupilometry – technology that measures physiological brain responses to stimuli by monitoring pupil dilation. Dr Warren has some early results revealing that significant smells in people’s lives, such as a favourite perfume, have a strong effect on memory centres in the brain, dilating the pupil markedly.

“Pupil dilation like this is of the kind we otherwise see with strong emotional arousal, as occurs in response to pain or loud noises, or indeed, romantic interest! Women in various cultures over the centuries have used compounds like belladonna to enhance their attractiveness and these also exploit pupil dilation.”

“We only have very preliminary results from this test, but together with mounting evidence in the field, we believe odours may be much better facilitators of memory and emotions than, for example, pictures and trigger quite different parts of the brain. These are brain areas that cannot be probed in any other way, yet which are central to diseases like Alzheimer’s,” says Dr Warren. “And conversely, the loss of smell during diseases like Alzheimer’s amounts to a loss in the associated memories, experiences and emotions which those odours unlock.”

The insight has prompted The Perfume Shop to encourage customers to share their own memories of special scents in their lives, from the fresh baked bread in the family kitchen, to the perfume or aftershave of a first love. During The Perfume Shop’s fundraising drive for Alzheimer’s Research UK, the retailer has introduced a new Twitter hashtag – #TPSMemoriesMatter – and scent memories shared will be met with a £1 donation from The Perfume Shop to the charity (conditions apply).

Customers will also be able to donate for in-store gift wrapping of their purchase, and The Perfume Shop’s staff will be fundraising to support Alzheimer’s Research UK across its 262 nationwide stores between 17th and 26th May.

Michelle D’Vaz, Brand & Marketing Manager, The Perfume Shop says, “We often receive anecdotal feedback from our customers about how powerful scents can be in terms of triggering memories and emotions. We’ve teamed up with Alzheimer’s Research UK to help unveil more powerful insights about how scent impacts on the brain and how important this could be for unlocking memories in those living with from dementia”.

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, says, “we are so grateful to The Perfume Shop and its wonderful customers for supporting our pioneering research into dementia and in such a thought provoking way. Reminiscing about those special fragrances in our lives is a poignant reminder of how important memory is to our sense of self, and how damaging dementia can be as these memories are stripped away.”

Posted in Science news