The sense of smell is thought to be the first sense that developed in mankind and it is closely linked to the memory function of the brain. Odour memory falls off less rapidly than other sensory memory, last a long time and can evoke strong ‘long lost’ memories. Smell is better at this memory effect than any of the other senses as it goes straight to the brain without intermediate processing. Whole memories, complete with all associated emotions, can thus be prompted by smell and it can have a very strong emotional impact.
It is rare for the sense of smell to be assessed by a doctor or health professional – it normally is simply taken for granted. We regularly see clients, however, that react strongly, or not at all, to various smells. This over or under-sensitivity in the sense of smell can have a profound influence on behaviour and emotions.
In the first instance you often can get a reasonable evaluation of how the sense of smell is performing by simple observations you can make yourself. These can play a key role in uncovering what may lie behind learning, sensory, developmental or emotional difficulties.
Here we outline some typical behaviours that often are the result of the sense of smell not working properly:
- Likes to sniff hands, objects or people
- Has a strong aversion to certain foods
- Only likes to eat very specific foods
- Is a very picky eater
- Is strongly affected by various smells
- Needs to separate foods from each other
- Smells food before eating it
- Has seizures elicited by certain smells
- Cannot distinguish between edible and inedible objects
Each typical behaviour on its own may not be meaningful. However, where there is a cluster of indicators, possibly across a number of senses, and the person has learning, sensory, developmental or emotional difficulties, these can indicate that one or more of the senses are out of balance.