With the Alzheimer’s Show on 10th June marking the first anniversary of ReminiScent and the launch of Smell & Connect Cards, founder Linda Harman looks back on how far they’ve come  

One whole year – and what a year it has been! From nervously launching an idea from our very small stand at The Alzheimer’s Show in 2015, we have met and spoken to so many people, demonstrated Smell & Connect in hospitals and care homes across the country, exhibited in carers’ forums and even at the ADI (Alzheimer’s Disease International) Conference in Budapest, Hungary.

We have learnt about product production and healthcare expectations, evolving our product from four smells to six and incorporating Story Cards to help carers and families get the conversation flowing. We have started to develop a network of distributors and been delighted by the support of many associations for our novel concept.

We were invited by Alzheimer’s Disease International to their conference in Budapest where we met the amazing members of the Dementia Alliance International, whose encouragement and mentoring is both a delight and a responsibility. We are inspired by them to work to erode the stigma around dementia and to be business advocates for people living with dementia.

We have moved from a passion driven by personal experience to proven product evaluation.  Forty members of NAPA (the National Activity Providers Association) recently trialled Smell & Connect. They told us that Smell & Connect cards provide a simple tool that helps them get to know people in their care, can entice people who have become withdrawn, and are a great confidence builder for new members of staff needing to interact to develop relationships.

The scents have initiated conversations about past lives and hobbies, sometimes resulting in ones that lead to care providers being able to encourage people to participate in activities that they previously enjoyed. One example was a man in residential care whose family said he loved his garden, but when invited to help he said “I can’t do that anymore.” The smells and conversation about Fresh Cut Grass and Tomato Plants brought the enjoyment back to him and now, with help, he is able to enjoy gardening again.

We have started to work with hospitals. The Royal United Hospitals Bath & Bristol trialled the Smell & Connect Original 6 Collection as communication aides on their elder care wards in 2015. Dr Chris Dyer, Consultant Geriatrician and Clinical Lead, told us “It’s been great to have a tool that enables us to use the sense of smell to spark new conversations with our patients.”

The trials were conducted on a one-to-one, face-to-face basis, by Dementia Co-ordinators and Alzheimer’s volunteers, who used the cards as part of their befriending visits. The patients varied in their level of dementia and many had some normal, age-related sensory loss. The Smell & Connect cards provided very useful prompts due to the smell stickers being an unusual diversion that intrigues and draws people into engagement with strangers when they might otherwise not do so.

One man, who was approached during this trial, was described as being curled up and facing the wall when the visitor arrived but turned towards her when she talked to him about the cards and smells. Another lady was happy to look at the cards and they prompted her to talk about her own garden. She recognised the tomato smell and remembered her home address. The cake cards triggered her to start talking about her family and deceased son. The smell of baby powder made her smile widely and she reached out to hold the hands of her visitor. Despite some of her memories being sad, she was still delighted to have someone listen to her memories of being a mother.

Whether a smell is recognised or not doesn’t matter; it is getting people talking that matters; the smell provides the trigger to start. Talking is often cited as one of the best therapies as it makes them feel included, valued and listened to. The power of the sense of smell to bring a moment of pleasure into the day is particularly poignant in dementia care. Breaking into the isolating effects of the disease takes patience, diligence and time.

Like any human toddler, on our first birthday, we are starting to find our feet. The ReminiScent team are overwhelmed by the positive reception and are all the more determined by the encounters we have had over the last year, to expand our range and continue our quest to bring the power of the sense of smell into dementia care.

Thank you to all our customers.

To buy ReminiScent Smell & Connect Cards, click here.