Linda Harman, co-founder of ReminiScent, reveals what prompted her to set up the company and how she went about it
‘I was working in the fragrance industry when my father died and I found myself suddenly thrown into caring for my mother, who had been diagnosed with dementia some time before.
‘Until this point I had always supported my father, but I openly admit that I didn’t fully understand what he was going through at the time. I soon learned!
Making a connection
‘We enlisted home care services and mother moved in to our home. My daughter filled a small notebook with head and shoulder photographs of the whole family and wrote our names largely underneath. She dubbed it “Grandma’s Face Book”.
‘It was a precious possession for Mum for a while; she would produce it to help her explain whom she meant when speaking to carers. She would repeat our names over and over, trying to hold on to them. Visiting relatives would leave their own images and write their names into the book as they left. It helped people to connect with her.
The power of scent
‘As time has gone on, communication with my mother has become increasingly difficult. “Grandma’s Face Book” is long forgotten, along with our names. My search now is for activities that bring moments of pleasure and help maintain a connected relationship.
‘The sense of smell is renowned for its connection to memory and emotion so I used my fragrance knowledge to soothe, pamper, even distract. Lavender’s relaxing properties are legendary, so her room is gently scented to promote restfulness. I massage her hands and spritz her clothes. We smell everything; the flowers, the coffee.
‘Mum is now in residential care and I found that when we used scented products, or brought flowers from the garden, other residents would come to join in whatever we were doing. Their responses inspired me to start a business.
‘ReminiScent came about as the result of the above experiences, and the gathering of a group of like-minded individuals. Tim Boxall and Paul Hughes from The Art of Design and I had worked together for many years during my fragrance industry career; their design expertise contributed to many satisfying events and projects.
‘Tim and Paul have designed for many health authorities, including a project originally championed by the Department of Health for staff within NHS hospitals and care homes called Let’s Respect. This project was primarily aimed to raise awareness of dementia, delirium and depression. The concept was highly successful with subsequent editions produced and distributed nationally. Their portfolio also includes work commissioned by The Institute of Psychiatry, The Royal College of Surgeons and Speech and Language Therapy.
‘Together, we felt very strongly that the current care model frequently overlooks emotional wellbeing. We are passionate about the role that the sense of smell can contribute. We believe that simple changes could make a massive difference and have set out to promote awareness and produce products to help.
The technology behind ReminiScent
‘Our previous involvement with the fragrance industry gives us a strong lead in developing both scents and technologies to carry scent safely. We identified a unique sampling system to allow the inclusion of “scent stickers” on our Smell & Connect cards that had, luckily, just become available in the UK. We approached the suppliers to join us in ReminiScent.
‘The sampling technology means that there is no liquid element to our scent – which we felt was very important for the care market. We were able to print and produce our first product ourselves. Our biggest challenges have been entering the care industry and making people aware of the Smell & Connect cards and how to use them.
Launching the business
‘We launched at The Alzheimer’s Show, London on 4 June 2015 and have since been working to add to the Smell & Connect range and promote our existence. Smell & Connect has a natural affinity with reminiscence products and activities. We are working to help activities co-ordinators, carers and families of people with dementia appreciate the amazing power of the sense of smell.
‘In one care home, a rather despondent resident was cajoled into joining a smelling session. We saw an immediate response after she smelt a baby powder card as it reminded her of when she used to nurse premature babies. She fondly recounted how small they used to be, moving from being reticent and feeling angry, to smiling and fully engaged with her companions.
Looking to the future
‘The act of sharing smell experiences brings people together. It provides both something to talk about and something to do. The Smell & Connect scents are selected to reflect happy life experiences; the smell of cut grass for memories of outdoors and fresh air; the smell of baby powder to evoke memories of the soft snuggle of (preferably sleepy) newborns.
‘I enjoyed working alongside perfumers in the past and am now striving to develop a whole range of Smell & Connect scents to build an olfactive library for the care industry. It is my dearest wish that ReminiScent will be instrumental in demonstrating that scent, rather than being something frivolous, is fundamental to human wellbeing and hope to inspire care organisations that it is not just a “nice to have”, but a necessity.
‘The French poet and author Victor Hugo said, “Nothing awakens a reminiscence like an odour.” He was right.’
To read Linda’s blog about exactly how scent can aid dementia care, click here. Watch the ReminiScent video story below