Smell is one of those words that’s a bit hard to take seriously. There’s something about it that risks the puerile, the silly. But taking it seriously, and urging others to do so, is what I’ve been doing with ode, a new product which uses scent to support people living with dementia. The behavioural changes associated with the condition often bring about a loss of hunger, a forgetfulness around food, or a lack of interest in meals. Ode emits food aromas from orange juice to Christmas cake into living rooms three times a day to reconnect people with eating and promote appetite.
I came up with the idea after noticing a growing need to incorporate fragrance in reminiscence therapy. I saw how much innovation was being demanded of the care industries, which are struggling to cope with the now 800,000 adults in the UK alone with dementia. For every news story about the under-resourcing of care homes, negligence, and the malaise of a sector that’s struggling to attract talent, there are incredible examples of new approaches being developed, from Holland’s dementia village to the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friendly Communities campaign. The challenge was to find out if, alongside these new methods, scent – an elusive, often overlooked sense – might play a role.
Ode was developed in partnership with product design firm Rodd Design with support from the Department of Health and Design Council’s Living Well with Dementia programme. Working through the design parameters was intuitive and straightforward, backed up by a strong R&D process. What proved most difficult was undertaking testing and credible evaluation as a start-up, without the budgets to commission a university-led clinical trial. We had to navigate the ethical guidelines of carrying out field research, such as how to get consent and from whom when the individual concerned is experiencing memory loss. But amid the frustration, we were encouraged by stories of care residents who usually stayed in their rooms coming out to eat, or asking for second portions of lunch.
Our worries that fragrance as a design tool would be perceived as unnecessary were shown to be unfounded. Get anyone smelling the Cherry Bakewell scent and they’ll start reminiscing, sharing their favourite recipes, or talking about how peckish they’re feeling. Rather the hurdle, as is the case with so many new ideas, has been how to position a product which doesn’t fit into existing categories such as chair lifts, personal alarms and blood pressure monitors, and needs to be introduced to a market eager for new ideas but struggling to articulate itself and its value.
Thankfully we’re part of a much wider network of new entrepreneurs, from Oomph!’s exercise classes to the creative print ideas of Active Minds, and even the team at Year Here, which is placing talented grads into care homes for intensive experience.