Clinical Aromatherapy tips for dementia-related behaviors

This post is dedicated to our family who has learned together, cried together, mourned together through the journey of dementia… Grandpa Marvin Marshek passed away on March 9, 2011. And his legacy lives on today because of what we learned through that journey. We now share that knowledge with others.

And a whole-hearted THANK YOU to Samantha Lee Wright for the podcast spot to talk further on this topic! These tips and below cheat sheets are mentioned in this episode. Hope they are helpful for you!

“Aromatherapy is possibly the most simple of complementary therapies to integrate
because when we inhale air, we inhale aroma, although we are usually unaware of it.”

– Mehmet Oz, MD

Employing essential oils (aromatherapy) in a clinical environment complements techniques like pet therapy, color therapy, music therapy, occupational therapy, etc. And the techniques are simple. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are affected by the aromas around us every minute of every day.

In this blog post I’m breaking down my tried & true tips for using the best selling Starter Bundle from Young Living to support those living with dementia (the resident AND the caregiver / family member). This post does not contain claims for healing from any disease. I am not a doctor. I am a family member who has lost someone to this disease, I am a researcher / teacher, and I want to share this good info.

I created the following graphics to be placed in “med rooms” of memory care communities and shared with family members who were eager to learn about and use their Young Living Essential Oils Starter Bundle (and more) to support life through the journey of memory loss / dementia.

Working with many memory care communities in my area of the Pacific Northwest, I have printed / laminated these images for use, under RN supervision. Keep in mind, in a clinical setting, applying anything to the skin must be under a prescriptive order. So – we got creative! See info below…

INTERESTING INFO about olfactory dysfunction…

Olfactory dysfunction is thought to be a marker for detecting early Alzheimer’s Disease. While aromatherapy is not a cure for dementia, smell and touch are powerful messengers, often penetrating the fog of amnesia in a way words do not. Knasko and Gilbert (1990) suggest patients normally unable to communicate would find it “refreshing to have a nonverbal interaction with their environment”.

Flanagan (1995) reported on the use of a variety of essential oil to improve atmosphere and behavior in institutionalized patients with Alzheimer’s. One patient, who was so combative he required sedation injections, changed dramatically when a cotton ball with essential oil of lavender was pinned to his shirt lapel. No, he no longer needs medication if the cotton ball can be pinned to his shirt in time. Kilstoff and Chenoweth (1998) reported on the effect of aromatherapy on patients in a multicultural dementia day-care center in Australia for a period of 18 months. They used a combination of lavender, mandarin, and geranium essential oils diluted in a hand massage. Patients were have thought to have become more alert and less agitated, although it was unclear whether this from the hand massage or the essential oils. The use of aromatherapy appeared to have had a positive effect on the staff and caregivers as well, possibly because of empowerment.

A personal note from Lori

I wish our family was familiar with essential oils when my Grandpa Marvin was dealing with dementia, and the various behaviors that popped up due to the disease. And personally, I wish our family members were aware of the benefits of essential oils… for our own emotional support, for those of our caregivers / extended family / etc.

Knowing what I know now about the benefits of aromatherapy, here’s what I would recommend for the patient / memory care resident

Fun fact – most dollar stores have tiny stuffed animals on keychains. Those work great on button holes of sweaters, attached to a blanket, etc… when the patient / resident fidgets with the stuff animal what happens? AROMATHERAPY! In one community I worked with, this was one of the care plans instituted by the RN for anyone who was helping one particular resident get dressed in the morning. That resident rarely had behavioral issues when 1 drop of White Angelica was placed on her keychain kitty every morning. What a life changer for her!

#Protip – Did you know orange essential oil could stimulate the salivary glands? One community started to place warm / wet wash cloths at each place setting for when resident sat down in the dining room. The wash cloths had been soaked in warm water with YL’s Orange essential oil added to it (in a crock pot). Each resident was given the suggestion to wash their hands with the wash cloth before eating lunch, and face. You know what this memory care community found? Many of their residents who were losing weight due to lack of appetite started to gain weight, or maintain weight – the only change was the orange-infused wash cloths!

Going a step further, knowing what I know now about the benefits of essential oils, here’s some tools I would recommend for the family members / caregivers of the patient / resident…

Caregivers / Family Members: I want to speak from my heart, directly to YOU for a minute. Caring for someone with dementia is difficult on its own. Watching the breakdown of the mind and the body is a whole different emotional stress. Please schedule time to take care of yourself. Call friends. Take a break. Go for a drive. Use emotional support tools to give you what you need. Do not forsake taking care of yourself.

The statistics surrounding the health decline of those caring for their loved ones are scary. So, be intentional about your care. This is so important!

Book recommendation

If you don’t know much about dementia as a disease, I highly recommend the following book: “Learning to Speak Alzheimers“. We read it as a family. It helped us understand the disease and what happens to the mind / body, and prepared us for decisions we had to eventually make.

Further aromatherapy info

The following information was shared in an article from 
“Manage Dementia’s Side Effects – As the search continues for a cure for Alzheimer’s and related dementias, some research suggests that aromatherapy and the use of essential oils may treat certain symptoms of the disease.

While research on the effectiveness of essential oils is still evolving, some studies have shown aromatherapy can:

Ease symptoms of anxiety – Improve the quality of life for people living with chronic health conditions

Oils may be inhaled, applied to the skin, or placed in food or tea depending on the type of oil and its level of concentration. (Note from Lori – remember, in a clinical setting, applying to skin can only be done with a prescription.)

While oils have been used for generations and many are thought to be safe, essential oils are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so be sure to consult with your doctor before using to ensure oils will not have any negative interaction with medication.

In addition to the therapeutic benefits of the oils themselves, studies have also shown that sensory stimulation for people with Alzheimer’s can decrease agitation, improve sleep and improve the overall quality of life for those living with the disease.

7 Essential Oils That May Help Those Living with Dementia – Here are oils that have been shown to be effective in treating and controlling different symptoms of dementia:

1. Lavender – Lavender is thought to be calming and able to balance strong emotions. It has also been used to help with depression, anger and irritability, and can help in some cases of insomnia. Lavender can be directly inhaled, used a massage oil or sprayed on linens.

2. Peppermint – Peppermint is an energizer and can be used to stimulate the mind and calm nerves at the same time. Best used in the morning, peppermint oil can be inhaled directly, diffused in a room, used as a massage oil, sprayed in the air or even placed in a bath.

3. Rosemary – Similar to peppermint, Rosemary is an uplifting oil used to stimulate the mind and body. It may even improve cognitive performance and mood. Rosemary has also been known to ease constipation, symptoms of depression and also reinvigorate the appetite. Rosemary oil can be directly inhaled, diffused through a room or used as a spray.

4. Bergamot – Bergamot can be used to relieve anxiety, agitation, mild depression and stress. This mood elevating and calming oil can also be used to relieve insomnia. To use bergamot oil, place a few drops in a bath, use as a massage oil, diffuse through a room or use a spray on clothing or linens.

5. Lemon – Lemon oil is one of the most studied and more effective oils. It has been shown to help calm and relax people who are dealing with anxiety and insomnia, improve memory and ease indigestion. Lemon oil can be dropped into a bath, inhaled directly, diffused, sprayed or applied directly to the skin as a massage oil.

6. Ylang Ylang – Ylang Ylang oil can help ease depression while also promoting good sleep. This is a great oil not only for a person living with Alzheimer’s, but also for caregivers struggling with restlessness and lack of sleep. Ylang Ylang is often combined with lemon oil and can be placed in a bath, inhaled, diffused or sprayed.

7. Ginger – Ginger oil is helpful for anyone struggling with digestion issues. Commonly used to treat a loss of appetite and constipation, ginger can help promote good eating habits. Ginger oil can be applied directly to the skin as an abdominal massage, inhaled, diffused, sprayed or placed on a compress.”

“Of all the complementary therapies, aromatherapy is perhaps the most misunderstood. It is maligned, misrepresented, and can be very confusing. Even the name aromatherapy is a misnomer. Contrary to popular belief, aromatherapy is not just about smells! It is little wonder that orthodoxy ridicules what the perfume industry guards so well.” – Jane Buckle, RN, PhD

I am happy to share this here for others who are journeying down this road. Additionally, I have since helped many memory care communities in assessing needs for their residents who are exhibiting specific dementia-related behaviors. I can assist families by giving them tools that will support their in-home needs. Additionally, I can empower memory care professionals / nurses with establishing care plans for their teams, to be used in a clinical environment. Let’s support natural, healthy behaviors!

So, off you go … log in to your YL account or use this link to setup an account. Your items will be sent straight to your doorstep, sent directly from the YL warehouse.

Young Living Gold Leader | Brand Partner #1780608

BIO: Lori (Tisdale) Haraldsen, a clinical aromatherapy specialist, brings 15 years cumulative experience between dementia training and hands-on experience with aromatherapy. Her passion is research and teaching. Her specialty is in applying simple aromatherapy techniques specific to the needs of family members and caregivers taking care of individuals with various forms of dementia, in a clinical setting.


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