Why Are Smells Associated with Memory?

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Do you have a favorite perfume or cologne? For many of us, our favorite smells are a way to remember the happy times in our lives. But why are smells associated with memory, and how can that link help you?

Why Are Smells Associated with Memory?

Has a scent ever triggered a vivid memory for you? Maybe the smell of sunscreen takes you back to a beloved beach vacation, or perhaps the scent of pine needles brings back some treasured Christmas moments. Some people even use familiar scents to help them summon memories for memoir writing and other creative pursuits. But why are smells associated with memory? The answer lies in the anatomy of the brain.

The Brain Science Behind Linking Scent and Memory

To understand why smells evoke memories, looking at how your brain processes and stores sensory information is helpful. When you encounter a scent, it’s processed by your olfactory bulb, a structure near the front of your brain that helps you understand sensory information. To reach the olfactory bulb, scent information travels through your brain’s limbic system, which allows you to understand emotions and memory. Because both systems are triggered at once, the link between memory and smell tends to be strong for most people. Smells can summon vivid images, emotions, and even sensory feedback once the initial connection is established.

It may sound odd, but the link between smells and memory is so strong that people have used it for various purposes for a long time. Some seniors might remember the Smell-O-Vision movie fad of the 1950s, where theater owners would fill theaters with smells related to the feature film to draw people deeper into the story. Even today, boutique hotels and other high-end destinations will employ signature scents to help customers subconsciously link their business with happiness and luxury. It’s clearly an effective strategy, so how can you make it work for you?

Can Scents Make Your Memory Stronger?

Because the link between scent and memory is so effective, many senior caregivers are beginning to use aromatherapy to help those with age-related memory issues. However, you don’t necessarily need to struggle with one of those conditions to benefit from scent therapy. There are plenty of creative ways you can use the link between scent and memory to improve your everyday life:

  • Do you sometimes forget to eat? Use a scent related to a favorite food, such as baking cookies or bread, to stimulate your appetite.
  • Do you want to reminisce about a loved one or an event from the past but are having trouble with some details? Find a scent that takes you back, and journal what you remember.
  • Are you feeling stressed out or agitated? Scents like lavender and chamomile can take you to a calmer place. If you use them regularly, your brain will come to associate them with the process of calming down.
  • Scents can also give you a little extra energy when you need it. Sharp odors like peppermint and citrus help the brain focus, which can also make your memory stronger!


Now that you know how you can use the connection between smells and memory in your everyday life, it’s time to explore. See how you can make it work for you!

Are you looking for a community that provides a positive, healthy atmosphere where you can live out your golden years? The Shores of Lake Phalen is an assisted living and memory care community in a quiet, peaceful environment in Maplewood, Minnesota. Surrounded by a gorgeous wooded setting between two lakes, our residence offers the accessibility of apartment-style housing with the atmosphere and elegance of a resort. We offer numerous health and safety amenities, fun events and activities, a friendly and accommodating staff, and so much more. Schedule a tour of the community to explore our spacious apartments, elegant dining room, and more. We look forward to hearing from you!