Keith Kelsen’s Scent Narrative: Scent Learning and Relieving Childhood Trauma

Positive Scent can impact our moods and, especially for children, now can reduce the trauma of a hospital stay or a visit to the dentist.  Research is exposing the depth of Scent knowledge begins in the womb.  Additionally, there’s the possibility of using Scent to reduce stress, distract from pain or increase happiness in otherwise traumatic situations.  This has far reaching implications as new cognitive studies are showing adult trauma can be related to early life learnings.  Specifically, childhood hospitalization and even dental care can be the memories that haunt grown adults. As any parent can relate, having a child in the hospital is a major source of stress and anxiety for the whole family.  Recent studies have shown hope in Scent to reduce everyone’s anxiety.

Scent as Medicine is Growing

“Integrative therapies help children and families to practice happy and relaxed states of mind so that their bodies can relax and function better. Integrative therapies are safe and effective when combined with medications and other tools for managing side effects of treatment. They are also tools for coping better with the disruptions that are a part of complex illness and hospitalizations.”  University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital website.

The Masonic Children’s Hospital uses essential oils to treat children’s wounds, and they are on the menu of remedies offered to patients. The hospital started using them eight years ago to help adult patients relax, sleep and to relieve nausea symptoms. Since then, the university has expanded its oil therapy program and has developed its own special blends. These special blends have been extremely effective on the treatment of children. One notable example is in cases of children who have a rare skin disorder called epidermolysis bullosa (EB). The hospital has many patients with this genetic condition that creates skin that’s as delicate as a butterfly’s wings, making scratching dangerous.  The important part of the cure is getting the child to relax and allow the healing process to take place.

“In these cases, the parents are desperate for anything that will help their children,” said Megan Voss, a nurse at the hospital, “A special formula of various essential oils applied to the skin of the children with EB helps relieve itching. Plus, it’s anti-inflammatory.”[1]

Scent can Reduce Anxiety for Children and Parents

Science has already provided evidence that Scent can be used to reduce anxiety levels.  Researchers are advocating the humanization of pediatric services to limit the negative effects of hospitalization on children. Health care professionals and advisors are working with Scent to create a better atmosphere. Ambient Scent, as an example, can create a pleasant state when introducing a familiar aroma to a pediatric hospital or dental service environment. Logically, this kind of environment is often associated with fear and anxiety all creating vivid Scent cued memories of uncertainty, doubt, vulnerability and pain in association with the negative Scent of a hospital or dentist’s office. [2] Pleasant Scent can reduce this negative feeling and create an environment that is the best possible under the given circumstances.

How do we as humans learn these things? Smell is a primary sense and its origins in our lives go back to the very beginning.

It Starts Early: Babies Can Smell in the Womb

It’s astounding that we are finding that the sense of smell is developing in utero. The brain’s olfactory center forms very early in fetal development. Before they’re born, babies can detect odors. They start to use their nose when at about six months into a pregnancy. Studies with preterm infants born after just 30 weeks of pregnancy have shown that they respond to certain Scents. Many things a pregnant woman eats or smells somehow make their way into her baby’s watery world.

Studies have found that newborns have a very keen sense of smell. Within the first few days they will show a preference for the smell of their own mother, especially to her breast milk. There’s growing evidence that a newborn’s sense of smell helps them adapt to life outside the womb.

The sense of smell develops much earlier than vision but sensitivity usually declines on the road to adulthood, so a child experiences much more of life through their nose than parents do.  Because the olfactory system, like the rest of a child’s brain, is sensitive to early experience, those odors probably influence a baby’s later ability to detect Scents. All this before the first whiff of the world.[3]

Scent may Start Even Earlier in the Human Creation

The “Ambassador of Smell”, Noel Laurette, Dr. Hanns Hatt has lead breakthrough research proving that Scent receptors are throughout the body, beyond the nose.  Dr. Hatt has proven that biomarkers of Scent can make the claim that reproduction may have Scent as the navigator, as olfactory receptors (ORs) reside in spermatozoa. In a study published in 2003, he and his colleagues reported that olfactory receptors found inside the testes function to enable the sperm cells to be guided toward an unfertilized egg with a sophisticated sent guidance system In the Scent Narrative I have previously discussed Scent and Sexual Chemistry, but this gives it a whole new meaning. He has since identified olfactory receptors in several other organs, including the liver, heart, lungs, colon, and brain. In fact, genetic evidence suggests that nearly every organ in the body contains olfactory receptors.  When one starts looking how scent molecules have certain vibrations (see ), can it be related to the olfactory receptors are really tuned to the vibration of each sent molecule?  And these vibrational sensors (olfactory receptors) are why our organs can detect Scent?   

Newborns Use Scent to Navigate and Survive

As newborns, Scent continues to drive their knowledge of the world. Research shows that newborns can distinguish their own amniotic Scent from others’, and babies just a few days old can perceive their mother’s breast or underarm odor, sometimes from several feet away.  The earliest Scent programs outside of the womb are of Mother. They can detect and discriminate between all kinds of different odors, judging by the dramatic facial expression or sudden alertness when presented with a new Scent. To the newborn, this is the key to survival and finding the mother is the security needed to survive.

 “As a mom, you’re literally dripping with many of the same smells that your baby became so fond of in her recent amniotic home. Familiar cues are present in all bodily fluids — sweat, saliva, colostrum, breast milk, and, especially, the rich secretions of the glands that lubricate your nipples and areola — which is why, given a choice, infants prefer to nurse on their mother’s unwashed breast.” [4]

Toddlers are More Sensitive to Smell than Adults

Children build most their Scent “Palette” by age 5.  As they learn to speak, they often ask “What is that smell?” as they sort and categorize.  Studies have shown the great inquisitiveness of 4 year-olds to almost “sniff practically every flower they come upon” and have behaviors of literally “sticking their noses into everything”. The ability to distinguish fabulous from foul odors may not develop until they’re about 3 years old. In one study, researchers found that toddlers barely looked up when a nasty odor was secretly introduced into their play area.  All of this obviously leads to Scent as a personal experience, literally at the core of our programming, creating individuals partly based on their sense of smell and the associations.

Bringing Scent into the Childhood Healing Process

As more research is being done, studies show that ambient Scent can play an important role in the formation of emotional reactions of children, and subsequently impact their memory of the experience. In the study “The Use of Ambient Scent to Improve Children’s’ Hospital Experience”5, showed a direct correlation. Thus, diffusion of a pleasant and low intense Scent helps to humanize the hospital or dentist’s office by evoking emotional reactions and positively impacting the experience of young patients. However, given the individual differences of children and their Scent experience from the womb on, we should focus their subjective responses to Scent. It may be important to personalize the Scent of the hospital room. Researchers suggest that upon the admission of the child, he or she chooses the scent that they prefer the most so that during their stay in the hospital it will create a positive experience.  Scent is a very powerful driver in ways we never perceived and the knowledge that we are gaining in the last few years will change the world of health and our lives.

Scent is a very powerful driver in ways we never perceived and the knowledge that we are gaining in the last few years will change the world of health and our lives.





[1] Quoted from MAY 3, 2017 Allie Shah Star Tribune Does the essential-oil trend pass the smell test with Minnesota hospitals?
[2] Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, Andrew S. Garner: The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity & Toxic Stress
[3] Lise Eliot, Ph.D., What’s Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First 5 Years of Life.
[4] Lise Eliot, Ph.D. The Power of Scent Why your child’s sense of smell is so sharp
5 NAJA , BREE, ZAICHOWSKY The Use of Ambient Scent to Improve Childrens’ Hospital Experience


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