My grandmother’s house always smelled like lavender and eucalyptus. Well, it turns out, she may have been onto something. For our seasoned citizens, aromatherapy can do more than just make their homes smell like a garden. They can enhance mood, improve sleep, and even alleviate pain.
So, if you’ve ever scoffed at the idea of sniffing your way to wellness, prepare to have your nose, and your preconceptions, pleasantly surprised.
Aromatherapy offers numerous benefits for seniors, including mood enhancement, improved sleep, and pain relief. Essential oils like lavender can promote relaxation and better sleep, while others like peppermint can boost energy and cognition. It’s a natural, enjoyable way to enhance well-being in the golden years.
In a study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2012, two groups (aromatherapy group and control group) were subjected to inhalation therapy with lavender essential oil for 30 minutes before and after they underwent percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).
The results of the study showed that the aromatherapy group had significantly lower levels of anxiety and improved sleep quality than the control group. The aromatherapy group also had lower heart rates and blood pressure levels than the control group.
The study concluded that aromatherapy inhalation therapy is an effective intervention for reducing anxiety and improving sleep quality in patients undergoing PCI.
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.
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.
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.
Aromatherapy for Dementia
Aromatherapy can be a beneficial complementary therapy for individuals with dementia.
- Anxiety and Agitation Reduction: Certain essential oils, such as lavender and chamomile, are known for their calming properties. They can help reduce anxiety and agitation, which are common symptoms in people with dementia.
- Improved Sleep: Many individuals with dementia struggle with sleep disturbances. Essential oils like lavender and vetiver can promote relaxation and help improve sleep quality.
- Mood Enhancement: Citrus oils like lemon and orange, as well as floral oils like rose, can uplift mood and reduce symptoms of depression, which can often accompany dementia.
- Memory Stimulation: Some research suggests that certain scents, like peppermint and rosemary, can stimulate memory and cognitive function.
- Behavioral Issues: Aromatherapy can also help manage behavioral issues that often come with dementia. For example, lavender can have a calming effect and may help with aggression.
It’s important to note that while aromatherapy can provide supportive care and improve quality of life, it is not a cure for dementia. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new treatment regimen.
Also, be aware that some individuals may have sensitivities or allergies to certain essential oils.
What Are the General 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
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.
Here is a table of all the essential oils for aromatherapy mentioned in this article and what they are best suited for.
|Essential Oil||Better Digestion||Stress||Sleep||Stronger Immunity||Pain|
For more detailed information about these oils, keep on reading.
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:
|Essential Oil||Potential Benefits for Seniors|
|Lavender||Promotes relaxation, improves sleep quality, and may help alleviate anxiety and depression.|
|Peppermint||Can boost energy and cognition, and may help with digestion.|
|Rosemary||Known to enhance memory and concentration, and may help with digestion.|
|Eucalyptus||Can help with respiratory problems and may boost immunity.|
|Lemon||Known for its uplifting and energizing properties, and may help with digestion.|
|Chamomile||Promotes relaxation and sleep, and may help with digestion and pain relief.|
|Frankincense||Known for its calming and grounding properties, and may help with pain and inflammation.|
|Ginger||Can help with digestion and may alleviate nausea and pain.|
|Bergamot||Known for its uplifting properties, and may help alleviate stress and anxiety.|
|Clary Sage||Can help alleviate stress and anxiety, and may promote relaxation and sleep.|
|Tea Tree||Known for its antimicrobial properties, and may boost immunity.|
|Ylang Ylang||Can help reduce stress and anxiety, and may promote relaxation and sleep.|
|Sandalwood||Known for its grounding properties, and may help with mental clarity and relaxation.|
|Marjoram||Can help with pain relief, and may promote relaxation and sleep.|
|Clove||Known for its antimicrobial properties, and may help with pain relief.|
|Cedarwood||Can help promote relaxation and sleep, and may help with focus and cognition.|
|Vetiver||Known for its grounding properties, and may help promote relaxation and sleep.|
|Fennel||Can help with digestion, and may have diuretic and detoxifying properties.|
|Thyme||Known for its antimicrobial properties, and may boost immunity.|
|Basil||Can help with mental fatigue and focus, and may help with digestion.|
|Lemongrass||Lemongrass is known for its analgesic properties. It may help reduce pain and inflammation, which can be particularly beneficial for seniors dealing with conditions like arthritis.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
Several essential oils are known for their antimicrobial properties, which means they can inhibit the growth of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. This can support the immune system by helping to ward off infections. Here are a few examples:
- Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil is well-known for its powerful antiseptic properties and ability to treat wounds, which is why it’s often used topically for fungal infections and wounds.
- Eucalyptus Oil: Eucalyptus oil is widely used for its respiratory health benefits. It can help clear the respiratory tract of bacteria and other microbes that can lead to infection.
- Peppermint Oil: Peppermint oil is not only refreshing but can also inhibit the growth of certain types of bacteria and fungi.
- Lavender Oil: Lavender oil is prized for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can help prevent infections and promote wound healing.
- Lemongrass Oil: Lemongrass oil has potent antimicrobial properties and can help inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi.
- Oregano Oil: Oregano oil is known for its antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, making it a powerful tool in fighting off infections.
- Thyme Oil: Thyme oil is known for its antimicrobial properties and can be used to help fight off infections.
- Clove Oil: Clove oil has antimicrobial properties and can help fight off infections and boost the immune system.
Remember, essential oils should be used with caution. They should be diluted before use, and some oils may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new treatment regimen.
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:
- Clary sage
What is an Aromatherapist?
An aromatherapist is a professional who uses aromatic essential oils medicinally to improve the health of the body, mind, and spirit.
They enhance both physical and emotional health. Aromatherapists blend therapeutic essential oils that are either applied to the body during a massage, diffused in the air, inhaled directly, or used in other ways to stimulate the desired responses.
Aromatherapists need a thorough understanding of the properties of various essential oils and how they affect the human body and mind. They also need to know how to blend oils and how to safely administer them.
Some aromatherapists work in conjunction with other healthcare professionals, such as massage therapists, psychologists, or physicians, to provide a holistic approach to health and wellness.
It’s important to note that the practice of aromatherapy and the title of “aromatherapist” can vary widely in terms of training, certification, and regulation, depending on the country or region.
Always ensure that any aromatherapist you consult with has the appropriate qualifications and adheres to recognized professional standards.
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.
Tips On How Seniors Can Safely Use Aromatherapy
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.
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.
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.