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Scent expert and Unforgettable panel member Linda Harman shares what smells mean ‘home’ to her, and how they help her mum with dementia.

Have you ever considered which smells mean “home” to you? Probably not – but imagine this: walking up the pathway after a long working day, the smell of cakes baking wafts out of an open window – an unmistakable “welcome home” greeting. I am sure that it will make you feel happy as well as hungry!

Response to smell is more immediate and emotional than any other sense so scents entwine with memories to have very strong association with feelings. My mother, who now has dementia, didn’t go out to work when I was a child so when we returned from school, home smelled of her activity; the soapy fresh smell of the laundry, the waxy scent of polish and of course, the cooking.

If there was a smoky smell it meant that dad was home too. I still love the sulphurous smell of a struck match as it reminds me of him, despite the fact that he gave up smoking when I was in my teens.

How life changes! As a working mother I wonder if I have deprived my own children of these happy associations – except for special occasions such as Christmas, which is marked by the ritual baking of the Christmas cake!

For a person with dementia the sense of smell can provide a pathway to feelings from the past. Even if facts are elusive, the feeling of a moment may be evoked.

Sharing a scent is a good way to communicate, to reminisce or to converse about an activity, whether it is current or historic. Smells that are associated with home are familiar, happy and reassuring, providing an additional prop to support understanding and connection between people.

Classic ‘home’ smells such as Victoria sponge always make my mother smile happily – even without words I am able to understand that she is recalling her baking days.