Benefits of Aromatherapy for Dementia or Alzheimer's

Aromatherapy is a recognized holistic medicine practice. And it can benefits those with dementia, including Alzheimer's. Getty Images

Aromatherapy is the fastest growing complementary therapy among nurses. In the USA it has recently been recognized as a legitimate part of holistic nursing. Pleasing scents help relax people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. You can use aromatherapy for a loved one with dementia, including Alzheimer's. 


A study on the use of scent was published in The Journal of Quality Research in Dementia by Professor Elaine Perry (FmedSci), Professor of Neurochemical Pathology, Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle General Hospital, Westgate Road, Newcastle, United Kingdom.

It stated: “Aromatherapy uses essential oils from plants, either applied in a lotion and absorbed by the skin or inhaled and absorbed into the lungs and nasal passages, to improve physical and mental health. Aromatic oils from plants have been used for over 5,000 years: ancient Egyptians used them as perfumes and there are many references in the Bible to their use in mental and physical healing. Modern aromatherapy, which began in Germany during the 16th century, was also used successfully to treat wounded soldiers in the two World Wars.

Professor Perry then reported on findings of controlled clinical trials of aromatherapy in dementia. “Linen bags were filled with lavender flowers and placed under pillows in order to facilitate sleep: one trial showed that use of lavender increased sleep patterns of dementia patients who were in residential care.

A diminished sense of smell is such a well-established early symptom of dementia and Alzheimer’s that some clinics use a 10-item scratch-and-sniff test to screen for these illnesses. If this is true, then people with this disease could be uniquely insensitive to aromatherapy. But unlike other sensory systems, smells are sent straight through to the regions of the brain considered to be responsible for mood and emotion.

Activity professional Carolyn Ackerman at Erie County Care Facility has seen the results with her residents.

“We have used the Doterra oils at our facility and have seen amazing results. We use the diffusers and the hand lotion with oils both 1-1 and in groups. The diffusers offer fresh scents that relax our residents, especially our 'sundowners' on the Dementia unit, and allow us to provide an easy 'Sensory Stimulation' activity,” Ackerman said.

“We also offer Doterra 'Hand Spa's.' Using the oils mixed with lotion we massage the residents' hands and fingers providing increased circulation, relief from pain and the comfort of touch. Our Doterra Oils program works great for all levels of care, from our independent people as well as our non-responsive, dependent residents. We see happier, more relaxed residents and our building smells wonderful!”

How Aromatherapy Can Also Help Long-Term Care Patients

Mary Alice Windau noted in her experience the scented oils also benefited long-term care residents who are not experiencing dementia. “Using the supplement benefits those who are alert and active, confused and stressed, mobile, confined to bed, happy or sad. The long-term care population is all in need of stimulation to the sense of smell, or looking for natural alternative to drugs,” Windau said.

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