How Aromatherapy Soothes Seniors with Alzheimer’s

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As you know, for a senior loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, life can be frustrating, confusing, and scary. Aromatherapy makes the challenges of Alzheimer’s more manageable. This type of complementary medicine uses essential oils to confer wellbeing for the mind, emotions, and body. Here’s how aromatherapy can make life easier for your loved one.

Science of Aromatherapy

Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts with restorative qualities. The liquids are pressed or distilled from plant parts such as flowers, fruits, bark, leaves, roots, and seeds. After processing, an oil contains the “essence” of its source plant, including its scent, flavor, and biological compounds. When you inhale the vapor, receptor sites in your nose respond by sending nerve messages to your brain. Then, specific brain regions interpret these signals, producing physiological effects. Activated brain areas include the: 

  • Hippocampus – Used for learning and memory
  • Amygdala – Registers emotion
  • Hypothalamus – Produces hormones that govern body processes such as digestion, cardiovascular function, body temperature, appetite, sleep, behavior, and memory formation
  • Pituitary gland – Releases hormones that control organs, such as those involved with metabolism, immunity, pain, and moods

Aromatherapy for Alzheimer’s disease incorporates essential oils that induce pleasant feelings, memories, behaviors, and thoughts. Some reduce physical discomforts such as nausea, headaches, and joint pain. Certain plant extracts boost alertness and mental function. 

A 2009 study reported in Psychogeriatrics evaluated the impact of aromatherapy on seniors with Alzheimer’s. Over a one-month period, participants were exposed to essential oils of lemon and rosemary in the morning and lavender and orange oils at night. All the subjects showed marked improvement in cognitive function, as measured by dementia assessment tools. Lab results confirmed no adverse effects from the aromatherapy.

Caring for an older adult with Alzheimer’s can be challenging for caregivers who don’t have experience. If your senior loved one needs help managing an illness or assistance with daily tasks, make sure you choose a top-rated provider of home care. Cedar Falls Home Care Assistance is here to help your loved one live a happier and healthier life in the golden years. From the mentally stimulating activities in our Cognitive Therapeutics Method to our friendly Care Managers who are available to answer your questions 24 hours a day, we offer a wide array of high-quality at-home care services.

Symptomatic Relief

Here are common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and the essential oils that ease them.

Anger, irritability, and aggression – lavender, lemon balm, ylang-ylang

Anxiety and agitation – bergamot, frankincense, lavender, rose geranium, lemon balm, rose, ylang-ylang

Constipation – ginger, sweet orange, rosemary

Communication difficulties – lemon balm 

Confusion and forgetfulness – basil, bergamot, frankincense, ginger, lemongrass, jasmine, rosemary, lemon, peppermint, Spanish sage, lemon balm

Depression – rose geranium, lavender, lemon, sweet orange, rose, lemon balm, basil, bergamot, frankincense, ylang-ylang

Disinterest and lethargy – ginger, jasmine, lavender, peppermint, rose 

Headache – basil, bergamot, lavender, peppermint

Joint and muscle pain – rosemary, ginger + black pepper 

 

Restlessness and insomnia – frankincense, lavender, lemon balm, Roman chamomile, ylang-ylang

Poor appetite – rosemary, basil, lemon

Sundown Syndrome – frankincense + grapefruit ease distress triggered by fading light at dusk

Families who find it difficult to care for their aging loved ones without assistance can benefit greatly from professional respite care. Cedar Falls, IA, family caregivers who need a break from their caregiving duties can turn to Home Care Assistance. Using our proprietary Balanced Care Method, our respite caregivers can encourage your loved one to eat well, exercise regularly, get plenty of mental and social stimulation, and focus on other lifestyle factors that promote longevity.

Dilution Rate

There are many options for utilizing aromatherapy, detailed below. For skin application, always dilute essential oil in a carrier oil such as olive, sesame, or sweet almond. Without dilution, essential oils can irritate the skin, causing rashes. For seniors, a safe dilution rate is 2 percent. To achieve this, blend 2 drops of essential oil with 1 teaspoon of carrier oil, or 6 drops of essential oil with 1 Tablespoon of carrier oil. To retain potency, store oils away from sunlight and heat, this will degrade them.

Patch Test

If your loved one has sensitive skin or allergies, do a small patch test. Blend 1 drop of essential oil with 1 teaspoon of carrier oil and apply to your loved one’s inner forearm. After a few hours, check the skin. If there’s no rash or redness, the essential oil should be safe to use on larger skin areas. If the skin is irritated, wash it with olive oil, followed by cool water, and don’t use that particular essential oil. Instead, test another one. Extracts generally safe for sensitive skin are lavender and chamomile.

Application Methods

Bath – Mix 8 drops of lavender or chamomile oil and ½ cup of milk and add to bathwater. Before your loved one enters the tub, agitate the bathwater to disperse the oils.

Body oil – After bathing, blend lemon balm or lavender oil with carrier oil and apply to skin.

Chest balm – Mix rosemary or lavender with carrier oil and massage over the chest.

Diffusion – Disperse vapor of any essential oil into the air, using a diffuser. Various models are available, such as reed, heat, fan, ultrasonic, and nebulizing. For a reed diffuser, place the stick in a bottle of essential oil. For a warming diffuser, use 3 to 5 drops of essential oil. Fan diffusers pass cool air through a pad, soaked with 4 to 8 drops of essential oil.  Ultrasonic machines disperse a fine mist, using electricity. Nebulizing devices have a vacuum mechanism, delivering a potent mist. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for ultrasonic and nebulizing machines.

Inhalation – Sprinkle a tissue or handkerchief with 3 drops of essential oil and let your loved one sniff the scent. Enable steam inhalation by adding 5 drops of essential oil to a bowl of hot water and placing it beyond your loved one’s reach.

Scented pillow– Apply 3 drops of essential oil to a tissue and tuck inside pillowcase.

Spray – Add 20 drops of essential oil, 2 ounces of water, and 2 ounces of witch hazel to an 8-ounce spray bottle. Shake well, then spritz the air. You can also mist clothing and linens, provided the essential oil has a light color. Dark essential oils can stain fabric.

Massage – Dilute essential oil with carrier oil and gently rub into muscles and joints, or give a massage using 2 drops of essential oil mixed into 1 teaspoon of unscented body lotion.

Seniors can face a variety of age-related challenges. Though some families choose to take on the caregiving duties, there may come a time when they need a trusted Cedar Falls home care provider. Families sometimes need respite from their duties so they can focus on their other responsibilities, and some seniors need around-the-clock assistance that their families are not able to provide. Home Care Assistance is here to help. Call 319-260-2222 today to talk to one of our professional Care Managers.

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