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Assisted living center uses scent machines to boost residents’ moods, appetites

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A trip to Vegas turned into a revolutionary idea for a local assisted living center.

Austin Steele says he kept noticing how good some of the hotels smelled so he decided to bring those scents to Indiana.

Now, five months after he installed the scent machines at Spring Mill Meadows on Indianapolis’ north side, the executive director says the assisted living center has seen all kinds of improvements from residents’ moods to even their appetites.

Elizabeth Gray visits her husband Herschel Kirk at least once a day.

“He’s adjusting. It’s going to take a while, but he’ll adjust,” said Gray.

Kirk was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2006. Gray had cared for him ever since. But, finally this past March, she knew it was time for help.

“It’s not easy then when I go home and everything. It seems real empty,” said Gray.

Charity Nelson’s mom also has Alzheimer’s. Carol Riggs has been here for about a year.

“She was wandering at night. It just wasn’t safe for her to be at home anymore,” said Nelson.

It’s a tough decision that families across the U.S. have to make every day. Steele says he’s hoping to make it a little easier.

“We try to create an environment that’s like home,” said Steele.

Four strategically placed scent machines spread a mild perfume through the hallways. Residents and visitors are greeted with white tea and fig. Fresh chocolate chip cookies can be smelled seeping from the dining halls.

“We’re trying to create that environment for our residents here. That they’re hungry. That they want to eat because part of that aging process that we’re trying to battle is that loss of appetite,” said Steele.

Steele said a took a few months, but he’s actually seeing residents’ weight stabilize as a result of the smells. Not just creating a more pleasant environment, but a healthier one.

“Sometimes they give him two helpings!” said Gray.

“She actually is more engaged since the scent machines have gone in,” said Nelson.

A fragrance Nelson says makes her visits more enjoyable and her mom more alert. They’re small but important comforts because after all, there’s no place like home.

“For my opinion, all the nursing homes that don’t have it, that would be a good thing for them to put it in theirs,” said Gray.

Steele says the scent machines have been so successful that they’ve now been installed company-wide at 60 American Senior Community locations.