A practice with roots that trace back to ancient Egypt, where Pharaohs were entombed with their essential oils, and a staple in both traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for its clear healing properties, aromatherapy has been practiced for an incredibly long time, and boasts an abundance of benefits.
However, more recently, the advantages of aromatherapy for dementia specifically have come to light, with aromatherapy proven to soothe and lessen a range of dementia symptoms, aiding everything from mood to behavior, cognitive function, and even memory. Read on to discover how exactly you can utilize essential oils to help dementia patients, and which you should be using.
Aromatherapy is the use of essentials oils, distilled from different plants and plant parts, to soothe and manage a variety of physical and psychological ailments, from anxiety to excessive pain. The oil used is dependent on the ailment to be tackled, as each essential oil possesses different benefits.
Essential oils are most commonly applied via contact with skin (either direct or through a compress), or by inhalation, although oils can also be consumed through food or tea and added to baths.
Inhalation is undoubtedly the most common way to practice aromatherapy, through a diffuser that disperses oil into the air. Different types of diffusers exist; portable diffusers are ideal for use in multiple locations, fan diffusers suit places where aromatherapy will consistently be practiced, and for larger sites, aroma generators ensure a desired level of aroma is circulated at all times.
Aromatherapy can ease a multitude of symptoms experienced by dementia patients, including anxiety, agitation, insomnia, memory loss and depression.
Memory loss and the subsequent confusion it can cause is of course one of the key issues dementia patients face. Due to the way our brains process scents, with the nose's smell receptors communicating with and stimulating parts of the brain that store memories, aromatherapy has proven to have a large impact on memory recall. This has caused an increase in the use of aromatherapy for dementia, and essential oils for elderly dementia patients specifically.
Aromatherapy can also be used to relax aggressive behavior, improve cognition, and boost mood. With research proving Aromatherapy possesses little to no side effects, the use of essential oils for dementia can make a great, non-pharmacological alternative to other medication.
One of the key points to remember with aromatherapy is that different oils have different purposes. As dementia manifests itself in several ways, choosing the right oils to target the specific symptoms you're trying to alleviate is key.
The two most universally effective essentials oils for dementia are undoubtedly lavender and lemon. Both oils possess calming properties proven to aid anxiety and agitation- increasing sleep quality and decreasing uncontrolled movement.
However, several oils are helpful in the battle against dementia, and these are as follows;
- Lavender: Incredibly calming, lavender is super effective in balancing and regulating emotions and mood, as well as for promoting sleep at night-time, and is therefore frequently used to combat depression and insomnia.
- Lemon: Also notable for its calming/relaxing properties, lemon is often utilized for battling anxiety and insomnia.
- Peppermint: Incredibly helpful for dementia sufferers, peppermint has shown to improve memory and stimulate the mind, as well as calm nerves. Peppermint can therefore also have a positive impact on appetite, making it a particularly helpful essential oil for elderly dementia patients.
- Rosemary: Stimulating for both the body and the mind, rosemary uplifts, improves cognitive performance and has been proven to boost memory.
- Bergamot: Mood boosting and balancing, the calming effect of bergamot treats stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia; all side-effects dementia patients may experience.
- Ylang Ylang: Primarily used for its' relaxing properties, Ylang Ylang is incredibly useful at providing stress relief.
When used incorrectly, aromatherapy can be dangerous. Never let undiluted oil come into direct contact with skin and ensure that only oils made explicitly for skin contact are used as such. You should also consult with a doctor prior to introducing aromatherapy, to confirm that your dementia patients will not experience any issues with medications they're currently taking.
When using aromatherapy for dementia, additional factors must be considered, all of which are equally important:
- Due to their strength, essential oils can cause headaches, which some dementia patients will be unable to explain when they occur; be sure to keep this in mind when setting the strength of your aroma and watch out for signs of distress.
- Scents trigger memories, and for dementia patients this can cause confusion or upset. Be aware of this when introducing new scents - observe the individual's reactions and stop treatment if necessary.
- Not all oils are relaxing; some are physically stimulating. Avoid stimulating scents if agitation is a problem you are addressing in your dementia patient.
Ultimately, while research is still ongoing into the effectiveness of aromatherapy for alleviating symptoms of dementia, the potential benefits of essential oils are clear to see. On many occasions, aromatherapy has proven to relax, reduce aggression, and stimulate the mind in the best possible ways to notably increase memory.
Check out the aromatherapy products we offer, or keep reading our blog for more information on helping patients with dementia, including the use of multisensory rooms for dementia (which work fantastically combined with aromatherapy), and how sound and music therapy can aid those with dementia.
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