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How to help people with Dementia using Essential Oils

elderly hands

Dementia, sadly, is incurable and whilst researchers and scientists continue to look for the genetic key to unlock this cruelest of conditions, the current focus is on alleviating symptoms of the disease and managing quality of life for those with this diagnosis.

How can essential oils alleviate the symptoms of dementia?

Dementia affects many aspects of an individual’s life, the main attributed feature is memory loss but in fact, people living with dementia suffer from many other symptoms too.  Here are some of the other issues that dementia patients and their families face daily:-

  • Anxiety – confusion and disorientation can regularly cause anxiety in dementia patients
  • Agitation – periods of agitation and even anger are not unusual in dementia patients as they retreat from the real world into a half-life which at times they accept but at other times can seem at odds with
  • Poor sleep – dementia patients often experience poor sleep
  • Mood Swings – are commonplace and contribute to an overall sense of being disjointed from life
  • Depression – forms part of the package of mental problems that can accompany dementia
  • Chronic health conditions – many dementia sufferers are elderly and have other chronic health conditions to manage like arthritis and respiratory disease

Essential oils can play a part in the daily lives of dementia sufferers in so many different ways.  Studies have shown (see references below) that increasing sensory stimulation for those suffering from dementia can help calm fractious behavior, improve mood and aid restful sleep.   A warm bath with some essential oils in the water, a soothing massage, some oil on the pillow before sleep is all different options for patients.  Oils can even be added to food or infused into an uplifting and refreshing tea.

What are the best essential oils to use?

Knowing your spectrum of oils is important to help choose the right one.  Here are some of the principal oils to use and how you can best deploy them:-

Rosemary – Rosemary has a sharp, uplifting effect rather like Peppermint,  it is a stimulating oil to help support the mood.  Rosemary can assist with alleviating depression and also act as a stimulus for poor appetite. Rosemary oil can be used through an inhaler or makes a lovely room spray

Lavender – Lavender is nature’s calmer and idea for dementia sufferers who are experiencing strong mood swings and emotions, particularly anger and irritability.  Lavender can also aid restful sleep.  Spray on fresh linens before bed and use as a calming massage oil for the hands or on the temples

Peppermint – Peppermint oil energizes and stimulates but it does so in a productive way so it also is, by the same token, a calming influence.  Use as a room spray or add to hot water to make a delicious peppermint tea.

Bergamot – for agitation and stress, bergamot both calms and lifts the mood at the same time so it is also very useful for patients with insomnia.  Use in a room diffuser or as a spray-on clothing and bed linens

Lemon Balm – more official studies have been conducted on lemon oil than any other of the essential oils.  Lemon balm aids digestion, relaxes and calms anxiety and can help improve memory so it has a noted effect on cognitive functions.  Lemon balm can easily be incorporated into different foods but it also makes the most delicious room spray or massage oil.

Ylang Ylang – Ylang Ylang is often combined with lemon balm or oil and is a great choice for restlessness and can be as effective for the caregivers as it is for the patient.  Enjoy the calming fragrance through inhalation, as a warm bath soak or a room spray

essential oils kit

Essentials Kit from Rocky Mountain Oils

Helping to improve quality of life care

Dementia is like many chronic conditions that middle-aged and elderly people can suffer with; it is not curable and can only be managed.  However, essential oils can make a real daily difference to the quality of life for those living with dementia.  It’s easy to overlook something so simple when faced with such a devastating disease.  Essential oils will also support other health conditions which often are present with older people such as respiratory issues and arthritis.

The best results for aromatherapy come with consistent use.  Find out how the patient reacts to different scents by placing a few drops of oil onto a tissue.  You may find there is a positive reaction to one particular fragrance but equally a scent could trigger a negative response. Smell, like sound is very evocative and can connect with the deepest parts of the brain and memory.

Essential oils can induce headaches if not used correctly or inappropriately.  They could create other responses which that person is unable to communicate to those around them.  Don’t experiment with oils, find one that receives a positive reception and stick with it.

Essential oils are nature’s powerhouse so always make sure they are safe to use particularly if a dementia patient is on prescription medication.  Check with the doctor first.  Oils must always be diluted in a base or a carrier oil like coconut oil and never used neat directly onto the skin.

References and Further Reading

Manage Dementia’s Side Effects with These 7 Essential Oils: https://www.alzheimers.net/10-10-14-essential-oils-dementia/
Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer’s disease: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20377818
Benefits of Using Aromatherapy Support for Caregivers: https://act.alz.org/site/DocServer/M3_Benefits_of_Using_Aromatherapy_Support_for_Caregivers.pdf
Aromatherapy, massage and dementia: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/treatments/alternative-therapies/aromatherapy-massage