You Smell Like a Memory

grassHave you ever smelled something and were instantly transported back to a moment, day, or period of time from your past?

Every now and then I catch a whiff of dew-speckled, freshly-cut grass, and I can’t help but think of early-morning Saturday soccer games in my youth.

Sometimes I smell a certain combination of gasoline and wet concrete, and I’m back in Hiroshima for a few seconds.

And there is the rare occasion when I detect the odor of a southern spring, and I feel like I’m in high school again, driving into Richmond to pick up my first real girlfriend.

Scent is incredibly powerful at connecting us with our past. I mention this today because I recently read an article about how researchers in Singapore are using certain smells to engage the minds of patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia in a way that has never been done before.

This is brilliant. It’s not a cure–not even close–but it’s a way to transport people back to better times. The researchers say that the smell kits have the effect of bringing out patients’ personalities, some for the first time in years.

I wonder if this could have implications for therapy as well. If you’re talking to your counselor about a tough time from your past that you’re having difficulty tapping into, you could smell something that reminds you of those times. It wouldn’t be a pleasant experience, but it might help you work through them with the guidance of your therapist.

I wish it were possible to bottle certain smells as we experience them so we can tap into those memories later. Like, Google Glasses for odors. That way you could capture scents from your happiest moments and sniff them later when you need them. You could even bottle them as perfume and have your lover wear it from time to time.

What smells transport you back to the past?

6 thoughts on “You Smell Like a Memory”

  1. This is such a warm concept for someone who is impaired memory. And it is reminder of how it important for me to tap into all my senses when making memories. Today was thinking of how I react when I go to the Atlantic Ocean (Nagshead, NC) for summer vacation. The smell of the salty fishy sand and water mixed with the smell of sun screen immediately helps me to relax.

    • Mom–Thanks for sharing that. I wonder if having the smell of suntan lotion on you sometimes would help grandma.

  2. The smell of Erno Laszlo lotion reminds me of my mother tucking me into bed and kissing me goodnight. The smell of the ocean reminds me of carefree days spent body surfing and nights spent searching for turtles laying eggs in the sand. The smell of movie theater popcorn reminds me of my first kiss. The smell of Burt’s Bees Pomegranate Lip Balm reminds me of my ex.

    For me, the sense of smell is hugely impacting. I have a sensitive sniffer and to this day, I can’t walk by the Lancome counter at a department store without tearing up a little bit at the memory of my grandmother putting on makeup each morning.

    • Thanks for sharing those smells and memories, Ansley. That’s very sweet to hear about the association with your grandmother.

  3. The smell of the ocean from the rain that tropical storms bring reminds me of Hong Kong. Some early mornings of autumn as the sun begins to rise from its somber, the scent of morning dews and crisp moisture of the fresh air reminds of the days I spent on some mountains in Taiwan. Every time I experience a whiff of those smells, I get reminded how long ago was when I was there in person, all the events associated with them, and how much I have grown since then. I miss those scents, but they are a bit different every time I get a whiff of them. Man, how I would love to smell that ocean.


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