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The Benefits Of Aromatherapy For Seniors 

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As we’ve discussed before, aromatherapy, when employed properly, can be highly advantageous for older adults. What kinds of benefits can senior citizens enjoy?

Aromatherapy may lessen a senior’s pain levels, aid in their digestion, lower their stress levels, reduce aggression in dementia patients, strengthen immunity, and improve their sleep quality.

Lavender, peppermint, chamomile, eucalyptus, and lemon oils are popular scents that are especially recommended for the elderly.

Ahead, we’ll delve deeper into the benefits of aromatherapy for seniors.

We’ll also discuss what an average professional aromatherapy session looks like and how to safely use essential oils and diffusers to help with some of the common problems experienced by the elderly.

Let’s begin! 

How Does Smell Affect The Brain?

When we smell something, the molecules enter our nose and bind to receptors in the part of the brain called the olfactory system.

The information is transmitted along the olfactory nerve endings to the olfactory bulb, which is located in the brain. The olfactory bulb acts as a bridge between the world outside and the inside of our brains.

From there, the signal is sent to the limbic system, which is responsible for emotional processing. It transforms the scent information and creates a sensory experience.

This explains why certain smells can evoke such strong emotions.

But the sense of smell does more than just provide us with information about our environment. It also plays an important role in our mood, memory, and emotional state.

For example, studies have shown that certain smells can help to boost our mood and improve our focus.

And while the exact mechanisms are still being studied, it’s thought that the sense of smell may be linked to the release of certain neurochemicals in the brain.

Additionally, many of us have memories that are closely associated with particular smells. When we encounter those smells again, they can trigger powerful emotions, memories, and even physical reactions.

Some researchers believe that the sense of smell may be even more important than we realize.

For example, one study found that people who had a strong sense of smell were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

The sense of smell also plays a role in memory and learning.

Research has shown that people who are unable to smell (either due to anosmia or hyposmia) also have difficulty forming new memories.

This suggests that the ability to smell is necessary for normal brain function.

What Are The Benefits Of Using Aromatherapy?

We know that scent has impressively positive effects on our mood and well-being.

According to researchers, ancient Egyptians were using fragrant oils as far back as 4500 BCE and other early cultures knew about the benefits of making essential oils from plants, as well.

In particular, the recorded history about China and India listed more than 700 substances including cinnamon, ginger, myrrh, and sandalwood as being effective for healing. In addition, Greek history documented the use of different EOs for the first time between 500 and 400 BC, including thyme, saffron, marjoram, cumin, and peppermint.

Elshafie and Camele, Biomed Research International

Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils made from plant extracts to promote physical and psychological well-being.

This holistic approach has been shown to be an effective, non-drug stress management technique stress because of its calming effect.

In one study, participants who received a lavender aromatherapy massage reported significantly lower levels of stress and anxiety than those who received a massage without aromatherapy.

The powerful effect of scent can also be used to boost mood and energy levels. Citrus scents, in particular, have been shown to increase alertness and energy levels.

Aromatherapy can also help to ease depression and promote relaxation.

And it’s not just essential oils that are beneficial – even the simple act of smelling a fresh bouquet of flowers can have a positive impact on our mental health.

Even modern medicine recognizes the benefits of essential oils and is exploring the antimicrobial properties of several plant oils.

While aromatherapy cannot and should not replace your senior’s everyday medications, the soothing scents used in aromatherapy treatments can lead to marked improvements as follows. 

Less Pain

Although there isn’t yet a lot of data on its efficiency, essential oils have begun being used in pain management in increasing quantities. 

At the very least, the inclusion of aromatherapy doesn’t hurt. At most, it’s believed to lessen inflammation, especially these essential oils:

  • Frankincense
  • Lemongrass
  • Clove
  • Ginger
  • Clary sage
  • Chamomile
  • Eucalyptus
  • Rosemary
  • Peppermint oil
  • Wintergreen
  • Bergamot
  • Rose
  • Lavender

Bergamot especially is a good one, as a study in a 2015 publication of Planta Medica found that the essential oil could possibly reduce neuropathic pain associated with chronic nerve diseases. 

Chamomile can be soothing for osteoarthritis and joint pain, says a 2016 study from Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, and lemongrass might work for rheumatoid arthritis pain according to this report

Better Digestion

The elderly frequently have issues with digestion. 

The muscle contractions required for digestion don’t occur at the same rate compared to a person’s younger years. This allows the body to absorb more water from food, which causes constipation.

Essential oils such as lemon, rosemary, peppermint, fennel, and ginger may be able to help in different ways.

Fennel stimulates digestion, peppermint can loosen the bowels (as confirmed in this 2008 publication of The BMJ), and rosemary oil can work in a similar fashion to peppermint.

Lemon oil can reduce constipation thanks to its antioxidants.

Less Stress

By far, the most popular and widespread use of aromatherapy is for stress relief. 

Lavender oil can induce a relaxing mood, sandalwood can lessen the symptoms of anxiety, clary sage can control stress, and lemon can improve mood. 

For elderly patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s especially, the mood-changing properties of essential oils are huge.

You might be able to reduce a senior’s dementia-related aggression or other challenging behaviors with aromatherapy. 

This will make the days you spend with your senior parent or loved one more bearable and pleasant whether you’re their full-time caretaker or simply an adult child or family member coming by for a visit. 

Stronger Immunity

Aging wreaks havoc on the immune system, lessening the body’s production of T and B cells in the thymus and bone marrow. 

On top of that, the secondary lymphoid tissues lose mature lymphocyte functioning. This all increases a senior’s rate of getting sick a lot more compared to a younger individual. 

Essential oils like tea tree, lavender, clove, and eucalyptus may boost a senior’s immunity. 

Admittedly, there has not been a lot of research done on this particular area of aromatherapy yet, so it’s all anecdotal at this point. 

Better Sleep 

As we’ve discussed on the blog before, restful sleep is something that can elude the elderly. 

Whether from sleep apnea, dementia, chronic pain, restless leg syndrome, or other conditions, seniors don’t sleep as well as they could in many cases. 

Lavender essential oil is a top pick for more soothing sleep, but any of these essential oils can help with poor sleep as well:

  • Valerian 
  • Eucalyptus
  • Vetiver
  • Clary sage 
  • Marjoram 
  • Cedarwood 
  • Sandalwood 
  • Bergamot 
  • Peppermint 
  • Chamomile 
  • Ylang-ylang 

Read more about aromatherapy products to help reduce stress in older adults here.

What Happens In A Session Of Aromatherapy?

Let’s say that you’ve decided to schedule an aromatherapy session for the senior in your life. You’ve never undergone a session by a professional aromatherapist before, so you’re not sure what to expect. 

What happens during an aromatherapy session?

Your senior will visit the aromatherapist’s office. If not an aromatherapist, massage therapists, pharmacists, physical therapists, and nurses are also qualified to perform professional aromatherapy.

First, the aromatherapist will ask your senior about their symptoms and medical history. They’ll also be asked about their scent preferences. 

Next, the aromatherapist will administer the essential oils, either through a spray, a vaporizer, steam inhalation, or even by breathing in the oils through a piece of cloth sprayed in the essential oil.

The aromatherapist may recommend how the elderly can use essential oils at home and even offer some other scents to try. 

Are Essential Oils Safe For The Elderly?

Aromatic oils (essential oils) can be safe and advantageous for elderly adults provided that the one administering the oils uses them correctly.

Here are some safe usage tips to help in that area.

Never Use Essential Oils Near Sources Of Flame

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about lavender or eucalyptus. All essential oils are flammable, and extremely flammable at that. 

Read about fire safety in the home.

Keep the oils away from any sources of flame, including fireplaces, gas stoves, candles, and other flammable substances or products around the house.

Wash Your Hands After Touching Essential Oils

Essential oils might be soothing and smell lovely, but they don’t feel nearly as good if you rub the oil into an open sore or into your eyes.

Whoever handles the essential oils during an at-home aromatherapy session must wash their hands afterwards to avoid transferring the essential oils elsewhere on the face or body. 

Carrier Oils Are Your Friend

If you worry that the strength of essential oil might be too potent, you should look into carrier oils. You can mix these oils with an essential oil to dilute the essential oil’s strength. 

That can reduce the risk of skin irritation and rash associated with aromatherapy. We’d especially recommend this for seniors with sensitive skin.

Never Orally Apply Essential Oils

Breathing in the scent of essential oils is fine, especially when done with the guidance and supervision of a trained aromatherapist. However, essential oils are for topical use only – you should never swallow them.

Even consuming small quantities of essential oils can be poisonous, so you need to contact emergency services immediately if someone has swallowed them. 

Is A Diffuser Good For The Elderly?

Now that you’ve begun exploring the world of essential oils with your senior parent or loved one, you’ll naturally become curious about diffusers sooner than later.

A diffuser breaks down the molecules in essential oils into smaller sizes and then releases them into the air. 

Are diffusers a good choice for elderly people? 

They can be, yes!

Here are some safety tips to keep in mind when using a diffuser.

Skip The Diffusers With High Heat

You have your pick among several types of diffusers, including nebulizing, ultrasonic, evaporative, and heat diffusers.

A heat diffuser warms up the essential oils to make them more potent. Not only can the essential oils be too strong for your senior, but the heat diffuser is a mild fire risk as well.

You’re better off with any of the other types of diffuser. 

An evaporative diffuser uses a fan to help the essential oil transform from oil to gas. That gas is then evaporated into the room. Evaporative diffusers do not produce very potent essential oils.

An ultrasonic diffuser, which is also known as a humidifying diffuser, uses a series of vibrations to shrink essential oil molecules until they’re small and mist-like. These diffusers also release moisture into the air.

Then there are nebulizing diffusers, which feature a vacuum that creates pressurized air. That air is released into the room without using heat or water. 

Use Diffusers In Ventilated Spaces Only

A well-ventilated environment is a must when using an essential oil diffuser. Without ventilation, respiratory system irritation can occur, and not just to your senior, but anyone else in the house (including pets!).

Don’t Use A Diffuser For Longer Than An Hour

Aromatherapy doesn’t become more beneficial the longer one is exposed to essential oils.

If anything, the use of these oils for a longer time has a higher chance of causing irritation and even nervous system stress.

Limit the use of a diffuser to no more than 30 minutes to start and then later, no more than an hour. 

Conclusion 

Aromatherapy, as a holistic treatment, can augment the medications and other treatments a senior is already undergoing. Use of essential oils might improve someone’s sleep quality, digestion, stress levels, and mood. 

Essential oils do carry some degree of risk, however.

People should never ingest them. Keep the room ventilated when performing essential oil therapy, avoid flammable substances, and use the oils only as directed.

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