Choice-making for people with severe disabilities can be extremely challenging. While this ability may be limited by their awareness of the choice to be made or the range of options available, a new research project aims to unlock the potential role of fragrance in helping individuals make daily decisions. Here, the authors review the approach, outline the initial findings and consider the implications for this innovative field of study.
The Seashell Trust, a UK-based school providing education, care and ancillary services for young people and adults with sensory and other disabilities, has a long-standing, charitable relationship with global fragrance supplier Seven Scent. A collaboration between the two organizations in 2011 led to an exploratory study designed to investigate how multi-sensory impaired children can use olfactory cues to improve communication. Encouraging results from this initial project suggested that fragrance can be beneficial in improving engagement, thus prompting a second study to explore the possibilities of aiding choice-making at mealtimes.
Pupils attending Seashell Trust have access to a reserved dining room with food displayed and served at a cafeteria-style counter. Young people are encouraged to choose their own lunches, tasting samples of different dishes presented in small taster pots and/or viewing the foods ready for serving. This approach works well for many students but has a number of limitations: