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Scent expert Linda Harman explains how a trip to the lavender fields of Provence and the benefits she’s seen in her mother is what inspired her to create a lavender pillow for people with dementia

Many people appreciate lavender for its fragrance. It’s a common ingredient in soaps, shampoos, and sachets for scenting clothes. The name lavender comes from the Latin root lavare, which means “to wash”. It may have earned this name because it was frequently used in Roman baths to help purify the body and spirit. The herb has been used as a remedy for a range of ailments from insomnia and anxiety to depression and fatigue.

Lavender is native to the mountainous zones of the Mediterranean where it grows in sunny, stony habitats. Today, it flourishes throughout southern Europe, Australia, as well as the United Kingdom – whose Norfolk Lavender was made famous by the Yardley brand.

It is the oil in small, blue violet flowers of the shrub that give the herb its fragrant scent and which is extracted as an essential oil for use in a wide variety of cosmetic and household products.

I recall a visit to the lavender fields in Provence in France. I had read about the intensity of the experience but nothing really prepared me for the acres of sweeping blue, and the sensuality of walking through sun-drenched fields whilst inhaling the wonderful scent from a plucked stem. It was magical. Many Provençal families continue a very traditional business; whilst machinery has invaded the larger farms there are still many small ones where, when the blue crop is ready to be harvested, the whole family pitches in to cut and collect it. The distillation of the oil is done on the farm itself, or via a collective in which several farms club together.

Inspired by memories of my Provençal visit, I planted a lavender border in my own garden last summer. The plants are established now and have bulked out into a sturdy small hedge. I am happily anticipating the scented blueness that should come this summer.

My mother, who has dementia, enjoys both the garden and the scent of lavender. We use the fragrance in her room to create a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere, and we also use a gorgeous lavender scented hand cream with every manicure session. I regularly manicure her hands as she uses her fingers for most food these days so neat nails are no longer just for vanity but are necessary for hygiene. My mothers’ companions enjoy sharing a generous dollop of hand cream and we often sit together massaging our hands and enjoying the waft of lavender that gently envelops us all.

All of the above experiences are the reason why ReminiScent leapt at the opportunity to use an encapsulated lavender fragrance inside a lovely soft pillow. In folklore, pillows were filled with lavender flowers to help restless people fall sleep. As all carers are very aware, restlessness is a frequent issue for many people with dementia. Our lavender fragrance is wrapped up in micro-capsules to conserve it. Plumping the pillow with your hands creates sufficient friction to rupture the fragrance containing capsules and release the scent.

Like all herbal remedies, nothing is guaranteed, but as scientific evidence suggests that aromatherapy with lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, improve sleep quality, promote relaxation, and lift mood in people suffering from sleep disorders – using lavender in this way is yet another means by which the sense of smell can benefit people with dementia.

Studies also suggest that massage with essential oils, particularly lavender, may result in improved sleep quality, more stable mood, better concentration, and reduced anxiety. In one study, people who received massage with lavender felt less anxious and more positive than those who received massage alone. Several small studies suggest that lavender aromatherapy may help reduce agitation in people with dementia, though they are mostly too small to be statistically significant. Lavender flowers have also been approved in Germany as a tea for insomnia, restlessness, and nervous stomach irritations.

Aromatherapy tunes into an intuitive human relationship with the scents that surround us. As awareness of the benefits grow, the pure pleasure of sinking into a lavender scented bed is relaxing in itself, and something I would highly recommend for anyone with dementia.