The Benefits Of Aromatherapy For Dementia Patients

Physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.” An individual’s sense of smell has the power to transport them back to the past and can also help them find calm in the present. Ancient Egyptians are believed to have created the first aromatherapy distillation tool, and the practice of aromatherapy has been followed by many cultures through the ages. More recently, research into non-pharmacological treatments for dementia suggests that aromatherapy may provide a number of benefits for dementia patients.

How Aromatherapy Works

Aromatherapy utilizes essential oils derived from flowers, herbs, plants and trees. The essential oils may be inhaled directly, misted into the air with a diffuser or applied directly to the skin to promote relaxation or improve aches and pains. Although aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of afflictions, medical research for this practice is only very recent. It is hypothesized that the essential oils stimulate the smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system - the part of the brain that controls emotions. The Mayo Clinic reports that some studies suggest that aromatherapy can help fight depression, induce calm, improve sleep, lessen inflammation, ease aching muscles and joints, reduce stress and help boost the immune system. 

Aromatherapy and Dementia

Dementia is a medical condition that can impact memory and cognition, cause mood swings and depression and also impede the completion of the tasks of daily living. Recent research has shown that aromatherapy can be a beneficial non-pharmacological treatment for dementia, particularly for those with Alzheimer’s disease. In this small batch of studies, many dementia patients experienced improvements in mood and cognition when aromatherapy was combined with massage. In addition, some patients experienced reduced stress levels and improved sleep following an aromatherapy session. 

How to Utilize Aromatherapy

The essential oils used in aromatherapy are inexpensive, readily available in both local pharmacies and online and are entirely drug-free. Another benefit to aromatherapy is that it can be used in conjunction with existing treatments. 

When starting with aromatherapy, introduce just one essential oil at a time to ensure the patient does not have a sensitivity. Signs of sensitivity include sneezing, congestion, runny nose or skin redness. Introducing scents on-by-one, will also help determine which ones the patient finds most pleasing. There are dozens of essential oils available, but here are a few classics:

  • Lavender oil - promotes sleep and relaxation.
  • Peppermint oil - helps focus and aching muscles.
  • Lemon oil - boosts concentration and energy.
  • Orange oil -- reduces anxiety and depression.
  • Rosemary oil - helps reduce tension and fatigue and is a natural disinfectant.
  • Basil oil - promotes alertness.

Keep in mind that essential oils can be combined, as well. Here are some suggestions for utilizing aromatherapy:

  • Add essential oils to a warm bath to reduce stress, increase calm and soothe arthritic joints.
  • Add a few drops of essential oil to a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, and then massage into hands, feet or other parts of the body to ease pain and enhance circulation.
  • Use a diffuser to add a mist of essential oil into the air.
  • Light an aromatherapy candle.
  • Place a drop of essential oil at the patient’s wrist or behind their ears.
  • Create a room deodorizer by adding 25-30 drops of essential oil to a spray bottle and then filling the bottle with equal parts water and witch hazel. The witch hazel will help the scent linger for longer.

At the Maples of Towson, we work with residents and their families to establish individual personal care plans. Our nurturing staff provides assistance with daily activities, enabling residents to enjoy their interests and personal schedule. Contact us to learn more about our lifestyle and wellness programs or to schedule an in-person or virtual tour.