Essential oils to help dementia and Alzheimer's patients
Let's make it clear right now - no essential oil will cure Alzheimer's disease or dementia. However, there is scientific literature confirming that specific essential oils can help manage mood and cognitive function in patients suffering from these diseases. Essential oils can not and should not replace pharmaceutical management of dementia, but using essential oils in day-to-day care management can be incorporated into the plan of care.
Lemon balm and lavender have been shown to help reduce physical non-aggressive behavior. Additionally, lemon balm has been shown to reduce social withdrawal and increase constructive activity engagement. Part of the therapeutic benefit from that study may also be that the essential oils were applied in a carrier lotion to the skin twice a day, which maintained contact with the oil more effectively. It's also important not to discount the power of touch; healthy therapeutic touch is beneficial physically and emotionally for all age groups, regardless of health status.
Diffusing lavender for 20 minutes twice a day helped reduce agitation, especially in dementia patients aged 70 to 85. For dementia patients over age 85, the difference was noticeably less. My theory on that is that the sense of smell had reduced too much to be therapeutic for that age group, but increasing the dosage of oil in the diffuser might counteract that. Lavender oil placed on bedding also helped patients sleep better and longer.
In one study, rosemary and lemon were used in combination in the morning, along with lavender and orange in combination in the evening. That study showed an improvement in cognitive function of personal orientation. Rosemary helps you "remember who you are" and citrus oils in general uplift mood. Lavender is more sedating, so it's a better choice to help calm dementia patients for the evening and aid sleep.
In animal studies, thuja (Tetraclinis articulata) oil inhaled by male mice helped them navigate mazes better. In worms, rose essential oil inhibited dementia-like symptoms.
What's the best way to use essential oils on the elderly?
Because many elderly lack healthy touch and emotional connection, I think incorporating essential oils in a nut-free oil or lotion is the most beneficial. The standard dilution for elderly or children is one percent essential oil to the carrier oil, or six drops per ounce. It's also important to use an essential oil and not "fragrance" or "perfume" which usually contain a few top notes but not the entire chemical signature of a true essential oil. Because everyone's skin integrity and sensitivity is different, it's important to test on a small area of skin and also consult the patient's health care team before implementing.
Diffusing essential oils in water vapor is the easiest method of application, and can affect the most people in the shortest period of time, so this is a great idea for common areas or individual rooms. Any essential oil has the possibility of triggering allergies or asthma attacks, so knowing the health history of everyone who would be exposed to the oil is important.
If implemented with care, essential oils can be part of a dementia or Alzheimer's patient's plan of care to help them experience a better quality of life.
Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician at Vitalichi Acupuncture. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.vitalichiacupuncture.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.
SOURCES FROM PUBMED.COM
• Aromatherapy as a safe and effective treatment for the management of agitation in severe dementia: the results of a double-blind, placebo controlled trial with Melissa. J Clin Psychiatry. 2002 Jul.
• A randomized controlled trial of Lavender (Lavender Angustifolia) and Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis) essential oils for the treatment of agitated behavior in older people with and without dementia. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Feb.
• Tetraclinic articulate essential oil mitigates cognitive deficits and brain oxidative stress in an Alzheimer's disease amyloidosis model. Phytomedicine. 2019 March 15.
• Evaluating the effects of diffused lavender in an adult day care center for patients with dementia in an effort to decrease behavioral issues: a pilot study. J Drug Assess. 2017 Jan 23.
• Effects of Inhalation Aromatherapy on Symptoms of Sleep Disturbance in the Elderly with Dementia. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017.
• Rose Essential Oil Delayed Alzheimer's Disease-Like Symptoms by SKN-1 Pathway in C. elegans. J Agric Food Chem. 2017 Oct.
• Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer's disease. Psychogeriatrics, 2009 Dec.
• The psycopharmacology of European herbs with cognition-enhancing properties. Curr Pharm Des. 2006.