Aromatherapy in Dementia Treament

I come from a family of sniffers. My Mom’s super smelling powers have declined. But it seems that dementia patients like her could still benefit from aromatherapy.

Between the Pond and the Woods -- Dementia and Aromatherapy

Studies in Taiwan have shown that therapy with essential oils can help lower agitation levels of dementia patients. The impact of the oils is even greater when healing scents are combined with acupressure. This research, described in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, was conducted in veterans’ homes and long term care facilities. At the beginning of the study, caregivers measured their patient’s degree of agitation. Then dementia patients were randomly divided into three groups. Groups included equal numbers of male and female participants. The average age of participants in each group was over 80.

One group of patients received no special treatment. The second group of people had lavender oil applied to pressure points on the body. In the third group, acupressure points were pressed for 2 minutes with 2.5% lavender oil. Then a 5 minute warm-up exercise was completed. The treatments for all groups lasted no more than 15 minutes. But sessions continued over several weeks.

At the end of the study, patient agitation was measured again using the Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory (CMAI).  This is a survey that caregivers use to measure how much agitation a dementia patient displays. The Taiwan study found that aromatherapy and acupressure both lowered agitation among participants.  But the best results were found in the group that got aromatherapy combined with acupressure.

Most caregivers haven’t been trained in acupressure. So it’s not practical to think we can all use both techniques easily at home. But if you live near a health food store, you may want to pick up a bottle of lavender oil. These oils are also sold in high end supermarkets like Whole Foods and Wegman’s. Many sites on the Internet offer a diagram of acupressure points. Try helping your loved one reduce their agitation with a simple oil massage on the wrists and the back of the knees.

Although the study doesn’t mention it, you may want to try essential oils for reducing your own agitation and stress. I put a few drops of oil on the light bulbs in my bedroom and sometimes sleep with a lavender eye pillow. Both help me relax and rest. Who doesn’t enjoy that?

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