Life can get very cluttered sometimes with personal and work responsibilities, appointments, meetings and endless to-do lists. If your memory is starting to go, you may want to stop and smell the rosemary. The aroma of rosemary essential oil, claims a recent study, may help older people to remember events and tasks that need to be completed at particular times in the future.
The findings will be presented today by post-graduate student Lauren Bussey, Lucy Moss and Dr. Mark Moss of Northumbria University this week at the British Psychological Society's Annual Conference in Nottingham.
"In this study we focused on prospective memory. This involves the ability to remember events that will occur in the future and to remember to complete tasks at particular times. It's critical for everyday functioning. For example, when someone needs to remember to post a letter or to take medication at a particular time," Bussey said.
Rosemary and lavender essential oil were diffused in a testing room by placing four drops on an aroma stream fan diffuser and switching it on five minutes before the participants entered the room. A total of 150 people aged 65 and older took part in the study and were randomly allocated to either the rosemary/lavender-scented room or another room with no scent.
Once in the room they undertook tests designed to assess their prospective memory functions. These included remembering to pass on a message at a given time during the procedure, and switching tasks when a specific event occurred. These tasks represent the two components of prospective memory: time-based (remembering to do something at a specific time such as watch a TV show) and event-based (remembering to do something due to an environmental cue such as posting a letter after seeing a post box).
Participants also completed mood assessment before and after undertaking tests in the scented or unscented rooms.
Analysis of the results showed that the rosemary aroma significantly enhanced prospective memory compared to the room with no aroma. In terms of mood, rosemary significantly increased alertness and lavender significantly increased calmness and contentedness compared to the no aroma control condition.
"These findings support previous research indicating that the aroma of rosemary essential oil can enhance cognitive functioning in healthy adults. This is the first time that similar effects have been demonstrated in the healthy over 65s. Further investigation is required to understand the potential benefits of these aromas throughout the life span," added Bussey.