Aromatherapy is a type of adjunctive therapy that uses essential oils to promote relaxation and well-being. Some studies have shown that aromatherapy may help improve mood and reduce anxiety in people with dementia.
The use of aromatherapy can have beneficial effects on people who have dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The scents of some essential oils such as lemon balm, bergamot, and lavender oil might be able to help with psychotic symptoms of dementia, such as agitation and aggression.
If you’re interested in seeking aromatherapy services for the senior in your life, then you won’t want to miss this guide.
We’ll discuss how safe aromatherapy is for dementia patients and which scents are the most effective, so keep reading!
What Is Dementia And How Does It Affect The Brain?
Dementia is a difficult subject, especially when it comes to our loved ones.
It is a progressive brain condition that can cause a range of severe symptoms, including memory loss, confusion and difficulty with communication.
In essence, the parts of the brain that control thinking, memory and language are slowly damaged or destroyed over time.
As dementia advances, functions like coordination, judgement and emotion may become affected.
Despite this grim picture there is hope as scientists work to develop treatments and potential cures.
For those who suffer from dementia it is important to stay connected to family and friends in order to remain active mentally, physically and socially – all of which can significantly improve quality of life.
How Does Aromatherapy Stimulate The Brain And Help With Dementia?
Aromatherapy works by stimulating the brain with signals from the sense of smell. Essential oil fragrances are inhaled, and molecules from these oils travel to the brain through our olfactory system.
This triggers a response in the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for emotions and memories, as well as for influencing the nervous system and hormonal balance.
The brain then releases certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or dopamine, which can have a calming effect on the body.
The use of a holistic therapy such as aromatherapy, might not seem like an obvious treatment modality for dementia, but it actually can have a positive effect.
Aromatherapy is an ancient practice that has seen the use of essential oils for medical treatment and healing since as far back as 4500 BCE.
It has been suggested that the scents associated with certain oils can trigger memories within the brain, and bridge the gap between an individual’s current state and memories from their past.
Also, according to Alzheimers.org.uk, the scents of certain essential oils can calm down dementia patients, and some scents might even help with the cognitive function of dementia patients.
This is based on years of clinical trials and published studies. One such study was done via a 2009 controlled clinical trial in the journal Psychogeriatrics.
In that study, 17 Alzheimer’s patients, after a control condition period of 28 days, received aromatherapy for another 28 consecutive days. Then they experienced 28 days of wash-out.
The aromatherapy treatment occurred in the mornings and evenings.
In the mornings, the Alzheimer’s patients were exposed to the scents of lemon oil and rosemary, and in the evenings, orange and lavender.
The researchers used a variety of dementia scales, including the Touch Panel-type Dementia Assessment Scale or TDAS, the Hasegawa Dementia Scale or HDS-R (a revised version), the Functional Assessment Staging of Alzheimer’s disease or FAST, and the Gottfries, Brane, Steen scale or GBSS-J (the Japanese version).
This happened four times.
After having these aromatherapy treatments, the patients had a “significant improvement” in areas such as cognitive performance and function and personal orientation.
Complementary alternative medicines need to be safe. To confirm the safety of the aromatherapy used in the present study, we performed routine laboratory tests, such as blood analysis and biochemical examinations, before and after the treatment. There were no significant differences in any of the parameters evaluated, indicating no deleterious side-effects from the aromatherapy. Based on these results, we believe that cognitive dysfunction, the cental symptom of AD, improves after aromatherapy.Jimbo et. al. study
Read more about the benefits of aromatherapy for seniors, in general, here.
What Is The Efficacy And Safety Of Aromatherapy Treatment For People With Dementia?
You may now be considering aromatherapy for the dementia patient in your life, but you have questions and concerns as well. How efficient is this treatment? And how safe?
Let’s peel back the curtain and take a closer look.
The Efficacy Of Aromatherapy For Dementia Patients
The data we looked at in the section prior are some studies of many.
There’s also a 2010 report from Science News that reported how thyme oil can limit the COX-2 enzyme, an inflammatory enzyme that has been linked with aggravating the symptoms of dementia.
The report also mentions that bergamot, fennel, eucalyptus, rose, and clove were effective scents for this as well.
A 2017 study from a publication of the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine proposes that “aromatherapy may promote neurogenesis in dentate gyrus of the hippocampus.”
Another study on the effects of aromatherapy for dementia comes from a 2020 publication of the Cochrane Database.
They reviewed a variety of studies, 13 in all, that included more than 700 participants. In these trials, the dementia patients were exhibiting psychological and/or behavioral symptoms.
The patients received aromatherapy using scents like cedar extract, lavender and orange, lemon balm and lavender, just lavender, or just lemon balm.
Although their study results were inconclusive, the database didn’t say that aromatherapy for a family member with dementia was ill-advised.
So what does all this tell us?
The science has been mostly positive for the effects of aromatherapy on dementia patients.
Some reports have mentioned that since antipsychotics are strong medications that can only usually be prescribed for short periods that aromatherapy can help in the interim.
However, none of the science says that aromatherapy will cure dementia.
You shouldn’t expect drastic improvements or a reduction in cases of severe dementia, but slight improvements instead.
Is Aromatherapy Safe For Dementia Patients?
What about the safety of aromatherapy?
The Psychogeriatrics report stated, “In conclusion, we found aromatherapy an efficacious non-pharmacological therapy for dementia.”
That said, this assumes that you or the person administering aromatherapy to a dementia patient does so properly.
That means only purchasing quality essential oils, never synthetic fragrances.
Your senior parent or loved one should never swallow the oils nor have them applied directly to their skin. Heating the oils is a poor idea since essential oils are flammable.
Most importantly, use aromatherapy to augment conventional medicine, not in lieu of conventional medicine.
What Scent Is Good For Dementia Patients?
You’ve started doing research into essential oils, and you had never realized there were so many!
Indeed, you can select from more than 90 essential oils, so how do you choose the right one for your senior parent or loved one with dementia?
Here are three standbys that are renowned for being effective for dementia patients.
The Melissa officinalis or lemon balm herb is calming enough on its own. When used as an essential oil, the effects continue.
Lemon balm has long been used, mostly in its herbal form, for treating indigestion, lessening pain, bettering appetite, improving sleep, and lessening anxiety and stress.
As an essential oil, lemon balm may reduce a dementia patient’s symptoms if they have only mild cognitive impairment.
Sourced from the Citrus bergamia or citrus fruit, bergamot oil is another highly recommended essential oil for dementia patients.
It’s known for being uplifting and having a calming effect.
The very versatile lavender essential oil frequently appears in studies due to its ability to reduce psychotic dementia symptoms in patients with Alzheimer’s such as agitation and aggression.
The oil, which is distilled from the Lavandula angustifolia plant, can even lessen nausea, insomnia, depression, and anxiety, although those effects are for the general populace and not necessarily dementia patients.
Which Scent Would You Use To Help Calm Down A Person With Dementia?
Sometimes a dementia patient can get upset or distressed very easily and sometimes it seems like nothing will help to calm them down.
Any of the three scents that we looked at in the section prior will help to calm significant agitation and boost mood.
Remember to avoid topical and oral application of essential oils, however, as this could worsen agitation and aggression in a dementia patient.
How Is Bergamot Used For Dementia?
As we’ve made clear, bergamot is an especially recommended essential oil for dementia patients, but how is it effective?
The citrus-derived essential oil has a sweet and spicy aroma with citrus notes that are quite appealing.
Bergamot might be able to trigger serotonin and dopamine, which is how it can alleviate stress and anxiety.
The contentment that a dementia patient may feel after being exposed to bergamot essential oil could soothe their muscles, lessen headaches, and help them get a better night’s sleep.
Does Peppermint Help With Dementia?
We established that it’s a huge world of essential oils out there. What if you move beyond lemon, bergamot, and lavender to other scents?
For instance, peppermint. What, if anything, does it do for dementia patients?
Peppermint is a strong-smelling, appealing fragrance that’s designed to calm one down.
In lieu of the other essential oils, you can always use peppermint oil in a pinch if your senior parent or loved one with dementia is having an episode.
We must note that while peppermint is said to alleviate absent-mindedness that there’s a significant difference between someone who is otherwise able-minded, but forgetful from time to time, and someone with a memory-degenerating condition such as dementia.
You should use this essential oil more for its calming effects, as that’s where its benefits will be the most pronounced for dementia patients.
Does Frankincense Help With Dementia?
Frankincense is a type of resin that frequently appears in perfumes and incense. It comes from the Boswellia tree genus, of which three species can produce the oil: Boswellia papyifera, Boswellia serrata, and Boswellia sacra.
Some studies have been done on the effects of frankincense oil on dementia patients, but we won’t share them here because the studies are still in their infancy and thus the results cannot be applied on a wider scale yet (if at all).
What we do know for certain is that frankincense as an essential oil can stabilize one’s mood and produce calming effects.
Whether its benefits go beyond that, time will tell.
While you can technically ingest frankincense and apply it topically without any ill effects, we still wouldn’t recommend doing so.
NOTE: A dementia patient, if they use essential oils without supervision, might not be able to tell the difference between frankincense and other oils, which should not be ingested or applied directly to the skin.
Essential Oil Recipes For Dementia
This section provides a variety of essential oil recipes specifically designed to ease some of the common challenges faced by those with dementia, such as stress, anxiety, confusion and agitation.
Each recipe is easy to make and safe to use – so you can start incorporating them into your daily routine right away. Also, many recipes use a diffuser, which you can find online here.
With regular use, these simple yet effective remedies may provide much-needed relief from the physical and emotional consequences of this devastating disorder.
Read more about aromatherapy products to reduce stress in older adults.
1. Rosemary and Lavender Essential Oil:
Mix together 5 drops of rosemary essential oil and 5 drops of lavender essential oil in a bowl. Put the mixture into an aromatherapy diffuser and spread the aroma throughout the room.
This blend helps to promote relaxation, clarity, and mental focus.
2. Lemon Balm, Peppermint, and Rosemary Oil:
Combine 4 drops of lemon balm essential oil, 4 drops of peppermint essential oil, and 6 drops of rosemary essential oil in a bowl. Use an aromatherapy diffuser to spread the fragrance.
This blend has been known to boost memory recall as well as providing other cognitive benefits for people with dementia symptoms.
3. Sweet Orange and Neroli Essential Oil:
Create a relaxing atmosphere with this blend of 6 drops of sweet orange essential oil and 4 drops of neroli essential oil.
Simply mix in a bowl, add to your aromatherapy diffuser, and enjoy the calming scent throughout your home or office.
This combination is said to reduce stress and anxiety levels, as well as help you feel more relaxed.
4. Lemon, Eucalyptus, and Frankincense Essential Oil:
Mix 5 drops of lemon essential oil, 5 drops of eucalyptus essential oil, and 3 drops of frankincense essential oil into a bowl.
Add the mixture to an aromatherapy diffuser and enjoy the scent filling up your space.
The different scents are said to reduce inflammation, boost immunity, and energize the body while relieving stress and anxiety.
5. Lavender, Roman Chamomile, and Sweet Marjoram Essential Oil:
Create a calming atmosphere with this soothing blend of 4 drops of lavender essential oil, 5 drops of Roman chamomile essential oil, and 3 drops of sweet marjoram essential oil.
Mix the oils in a bowl, then add them to your diffuser for a relaxing scent throughout your home.
This combination is said to give positive results for the relief of insomnia and promotion of good sleep as well as a reduction in stress levels.
6. Bergamot, Ylang Ylang, and Ginger Essential Oil:
Brighten up the atmosphere with this energizing and uplifting blend.
Mix 4 drops of bergamot essential oil, 3 drops ylang ylang essential oil, and 2 drops ginger essential oil, then add the blend to your diffuser.
This combination is said to help reduce symptoms of depression, boost energy levels, improve moods, reduce stress levels, and promote feelings of joy.
7. Roman Chamomile, Geranium, and Lemon Essential Oil:
Refresh the air with this sweet yet stimulating blend of 5 drops Roman chamomile essential oil, 4 drops geranium essential oil, and 2 drop lemon essential oil to experience this calming, uplifting scent.
This mixture is said to be helpful in reducing symptoms of anxiety, promoting calm nerves, inner peace and balance, improving focus, and increasing heart rate variability.
8. Lavender, Rosemary, and Peppermint Essential Oil:
Bring a sense of clarity with this invigorating blend of 5 drops lavender essential oil, 3 drops rosemary essential oil, and 2 drops peppermint essential oil. The result brings an energizing, yet calming aroma to the room.
This mixture is said to help reduce stress levels, improve concentration and focus, stimulate mental alertness, and enhance cognitive performance.
It can also help to reduce feelings of sadness or depression.
9. Bergamot Essential Oil:
This citrusy oil is known for its calming effects and can be used in an aromatherapy diffuser to create a sense of peace throughout the home.
For best results, combine 3 drops bergamot essential oil with 2 drops lavender essential oil for a powerful yet soothing combination that will fill your home with positivity.
Bergamot essential oil is said to help reduce stress levels, relieve symptoms associated with anxiety, uplift moods, promote relaxation and sleep, and improve energy levels.
10. Ylang-Ylang Essential Oil:
Known for its sweet floral scent, ylang-ylang essential oil is often used to increase feelings of joy, reduce stress and anxiety, balance hormones, and promote relaxation.
To get the most out of this oil, add 4 drops ylang-ylang essential oil to a diffuser along with 2 drops lavender essential oil and 1 drop bergamot essential oil for an energizing yet calming blend.
11. Frankincense Essential Oil:
To best enjoy its therapeutic effects, mix 3 drops frankincense essential oil with 2 drops orange or mandarin essential oil and 1 drop sage essential oil in a diffuser. This combination will help to reduce stress and promote feelings of contentment.
This earthy yet slightly sweet smelling oil has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to lift moods and reduce stress levels.
It has also been found to encourage relaxation, improve sleep quality and relieve anxiety.
12. Peppermint Essential Oil:
The strong, minty aroma of peppermint essential oil is great for boosting energy levels, promoting mental clarity and reducing fatigue.
Try adding 2 drops peppermint essential oil to a diffuser with 1 drop lemon or grapefruit essential oil for an invigorating blend that can help you stay alert throughout the day.
You can also mix 3 drops peppermint essential oil with 1 tablespoon coconut oil and massage it onto the back of your neck or temples for an extra kick of energy when needed
We’d advise caution in using it topically on a dementia patient in case they get agitated.
13. Rosemary Essential Oil:
The herbaceous scent of rosemary essential oil is known to boost energy, reduce mental fatigue and increase alertness.
When feeling overwhelmed or sluggish, try diffusing rosemary essential oil with lavender or eucalyptus essential oil for a calming, yet invigorating blend of aromas.
You can also mix 1 drop rosemary extract with 2 tablespoons coconut oil and massage it onto your chest and wrists to help you stay focused throughout the day.
14. Geranium Essential Oil:
The sweet, floral scent of geranium essential oil is known to help reduce stress, fight fatigue and enhance alertness.
Diffuse it with orange or lavender essential oil for a calming yet energizing aroma.
You can also mix 1 drop geranium extract with 2 tablespoons almond oil and massage this blend onto your chest, wrists and temples to help you stay alert during the day.
Aromatherapy for dementia is being widely studied all the time. It has been shown to be an effective tool for providing comfort and aiding communication in people with dementia. It can be used to help reduce stress, improve mood, and increase alertness.
Furthermore, research has found that it may even have a positive effect on cognitive functions such as memory and concentration.
Aromatherapy can be incorporated into a comprehensive care plan for people with dementia, along with other evidence-based treatments like music therapy and occupational therapy.
With its ease of use, low cost, and wide range of possible benefits, aromatherapy is an excellent choice for managing the symptoms of dementia.
While aromatherapy has been found to be beneficial for some people living with dementia, it may not be the best option for everyone. Be sure to consult a doctor or other medical professional before introducing any new treatments.
Additionally, aromatherapy should always be used in conjunction with other therapies and medications to ensure that symptoms are being managed effectively.