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?

When Mice Are on Our Side: Dementia Research

Mice are dirty and a terrible nuisance — unless they’re advancing dementia research. We had a mini-invasion of mice two weeks ago and I set out sticky traps and clean-kill traps. The rodents have now departed and I didn’t cry at their funerals.  But there’s an amazing new mouse study that makes me smile.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Around the time of the ‘mousecapades’ at our house, I got an article about a scientific breakthrough in dementia research at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) of the University of Queensland. Working with sound waves, researchers at QBI have come up with a promising method for removing defective beta-amyloid and tau proteins from a dementia patient’s brain. Their approach employs something called “focused therapeutic ultrasound, which non-invasively beams sound waves into the brain tissue.”

The treatment sounds like science fiction, but the study’s sound waves managed to open up the blood-brain barrier. Their presence stimulated the brain’s microglial cells, which work at waste-removal. Once stimulated, the microglial cells were able to clear out the toxic beta-amyloid clumps which are responsible for the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s. This is just the beginning of the good news, so don’t let the science terms discourage you from reading more.

According to the QBI report, this process restored the memory function of 75% of the mice tested — with zero damage to the surrounding brain tissue! They also claim that “the treated mice displayed improved performance in three memory tasks – a maze, a test to get them to recognise new objects, and one to get them to remember the places they should avoid.” That’s starting to sound like a miracle.

Obviously, a recovery among study mice is quite different from the restoration of a human brain. But QBI team member Jürgen Götz, said his research team is already planning to start trials with higher animal models, like sheep. If they are successful, human trials may be underway by 2017.

If you want to learn more about the tremendous contributions made by the heroic mice with Alzheimer’s, you can listen here to an interview with members of the QBI team. In the meantime, I’m rejoicing at the departure of our house mice — and the positive implications of this research.