Alzheimer's Q&A: Is aromatherapy beneficial for someone with Alzheimer's disease?

Is aromatherapy beneficial for someone with Alzheimer’s disease?

Essentially, aromatherapy is the use of aromatic plant oils, including essential oils, for psychological and/or physical well-being.

The term can be misleading since it’s not necessarily the aroma, but rather the effect the oils have on the body, such as massage with body oils and lotions. Aging and Alzheimer’s or dementia can diminish the olfactory sense. However, since a direct pharmacological effect of the oils is responsible for the healing effects, a diminished sense of smell doesn’t affect their use.

Professor Elaine Perry with the Institute of Aging and Health in Newcastle conducted studies in the use of aromatherapy and found that all aromatherapy treatments for psychiatric disorders and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia resulted in significant benefits, including reductions in agitation, sleeplessness, wandering and unsociable behavior.

Some of Perry’s findings included:

Lemon balm oil and lavender aroma increased functional abilities and communication and reduced difficult behaviors;

Lavender aroma massaged as lotion into the skin significantly reduced frequency or excessive motor behaviors;

Lemon balm lotion showed reductions in social withdrawal and an increase in constructive activities;

Lavender, marjoram, patchouli and vetivert applied as a cream or lotion increased alertness and scores on the Mini Mental State Examination.

Essential oils are most commonly inhaled and absorbed into the linings of the lungs, but can also be applied directly to and absorbed through the skin. Only diluted oils should be applied to the skin.

And, since aromatherapy potentially affects all systems of the body, it’s important to be aware of which essential oils do or do not have contraindications or interactions with medications.

Beekley Medical, beekley.com, recently developed aromatabs for use in clinical and long-term care settings, and the company has been seeing positive results in their use with Alzheimer’s or dementia patients. These self-adhesive tabs are 100 percent pure essential oils and are placed on the clothing on the individual’s upper chest; the effectiveness lasts up to eight hours.

The lavender and lavender/sandalwood tabs reportedly promote relaxation, comfort and sleep, and the orange/peppermint uplifts, energizes and can soothe queasiness.

More research is needed to fully assess the value of aromatherapy in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.

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