Home Aging in Home Activities Improve Cognitive Functioning:Aromatherapy and Dementia

Improve Cognitive Functioning:Aromatherapy and Dementia

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Aromatherapy and Dementia: Benefits of Scents Can Improve Cognitive Functioning and Calm

Aromatherapy, using plants essential oils for medicinal purposes, has been studied and the benefits recorded for thousands of years. These oils have long been used to promote a sense of well-being or to address a variety of different medical conditions.  Until recently, there was very little research done regarding the use of aromatherapy with individuals diagnosed with dementia.

Recently, there has been an increased interest and a number of clinical trials using aromatherapy.

These studies principally used either lavender (Lavandula angustifolia or Lavandula officinalis) or lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) along with a control group of no treatment.

All of the clinical studies showed a significant impact on negative behaviors in the individuals with dementia, and the good news is there were negligible side-effects.

More on how to improve cognitive functioning…

There is still not enough evidence to recommend the widespread use of aromatherapy for physicians to recommend in their clinical practice.  It is a simple treatment that family care partners may want to try at home, as an alternative with behavioral approaches, before trying medications that may cause side effects or sedate your family member.

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For those family care partners that are aware that the family member with dementia has lost their sense of smell, there is good news. Even though the person with dementia has lost the sense of smell (anosia), the effects of the essential oils are thought to be due to the compounds of the plant oils entering the body through the nose or lungs and acting directly on the brain: the compounds enter the bloodstream by absorption through the lungs or the lining of the nose.

There are different essential plant oils, which have, a molecular make up that easily crosses the blood- brain barrier.  Several plant species, such as lemon balm, lavender, chamomile, bergamot, neroli and valerian, have been used in aromatherapy specifically because it has long been believed to have beneficial effects on mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. For those diagnosed with dementia, lavender and lemon balm are purported to have sedative and/or cognitive enhancing properties.  Recent neurochemical and clinical studies are supporting these enhancing properties.

Lavender and lemon balm has been used in multiple studies and in different delivery: by applying cream with the oil and giving a massage, on pillows and in a room freshener. The studies have found that there have been positive responses to in those with dementia that have difficulty with sleep and exhibit challenging behaviors such as agitation.

The participants in one study had a massage with oils to the arms and face 5 to 8 times a day. This is a study that used the oils along with the power of touch to decrease the challenging behaviors.

There are other studies that utilize the power of ambient streams of the essential oils as the only vehicle for the delivery of the oils. There is not enough information to suggest that this method alone is effective.

If you are a family care partner and want to explore the use of aromatherapy to promote sleep, decrease challenging behaviors or promote improvement in cognition, there is a list of studies that you may want to review.

Never overpower the room with a scent, as it may be unpleasant to the person with dementia. Take time and introduce aromatherapy in different forms: oils in skin cream or massage oils, in room burners, or on a tissue inside a pillow.

Take time to document what and when you provide a treatment and document the effects. Be consistent. Give a treatment a period of time before discontinuing, unless there are adverse reactions. If an adverse reaction does occur, stop treatment immediately and document the reaction. Put this information in the medical history in the allergies section.

Please feel free to share any positive or negative responses with us on caregiverrelief.com

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Holmes, C., Hopkins, V., Hensford, C., et al (2001) Lavender oil as a treatment for agitated behaviour in severe dementia. International Journal of Psychogeriatric Psychiatry, 17, 305–308.

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Vance, D. (1999) Considering olfactory stimulation for adults with age-related dementia. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 88, 398–400.

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