Can Aromatherapy Help Dementia Behaviors?

by | Mar 1, 2018 | Dementia, Dementia Behaviors

Dementia behaviors like anxiety, shadowing and mood swings can be challenging and at times unnerving. In the quest to find ways that do not involve drugs to treat Mom’s dementia-related anxiety Diane turned to essential oils.

Aromatherapy and dementia

“Mom would get anxious every day, usually in the afternoon. It’s what they call sundowners. And let me tell you it is not pleasant. She would pace and wring her hands and ask to go home a thousand times. The thing was she was in her home! I was about to pull my hair out! The doctor suggested some anti-anxiety medication but I didn’t like what it did to her. She became almost catatonic. There was no emotion at all. I just couldn’t do this to her” ~ Diane

Aromatherapy Has Been Around A Long Time

Aromatherapy and dementia

Researching, Diane discovered that essential oils have a long history. Thought by some to be a “new age” remedy this is far from the truth.

Egyptians are credited with developing one of the first distillation machines to extract oils from certain plants. These oils were mostly used in embalming procedures.  China is credited with The practice of using infused aromatic oils as a mood enhancer. The Greeks also used aromatherapy (long before it was called that). In fact, Hippocrates is said to have practiced aromatherapy for healing purposes.

French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse coined the word after a burn incident spurred his curiosity about the healing power of essential oils. And furthermore, French surgeon Jean Valnet used essential oils to help heal soldiers’ wounds in World War II, proving the medical benefits of aromatherapy.

And recently there have been studies showing that sensory stimulation can be beneficial for people with dementia. Oils may be helpful to decrease agitation, improve sleep and may also help with depression. They are gentle, safe and effective.

So what is an Essential Oil?

Aromatherapy and Dementia

An essential oil is a concentrated liquid that contains a plant’s chemical properties. The oil contains the essence of the plants’ aroma. The oils are extracted from the plants using several different methods. Steam distillation is one of the most common methods.Other methods like expression and enfleurage may also be used. It depends on the particular plant. Some work better with one method versus another.

How Are The Oils Used?

Aromatherapy and dementia


Oils may be infused into the air and inhaled, applied to the skin ( be sure to add the oil to a carrier oil like almond oil or jojoba. Or add it to a massage cream). A nice hand or foot massage with the essential oils can be very relaxing. Some essential oils are also able to be ingested. But be careful with this. The oil used must be very pure. Make sure that you do your research before trying this method.


How Can Essential Oils Help With Dementia?

Aromatherapy and Dementia


Some of the oils seem to have calming effects when inhaled or massaged gently into the skin. Diane discovered that using the oils before Mom started getting agitated , helped to avoid a stressful afternoon for both of them.


“ Since I knew Mom was prone to becoming agitated around 4 to 5 PM I  began to employ what I call “my calming routine” at about 3:30. I would make sure that I had all of my work done by that time so I could devote my attention to Mom. I added lavender to the aromatherapy diffuser. Additionally, I turned the TV to a station with calming music and scenes. Then mom and I would sit down and I would gently massage her hands and sometimes her feet with massage cream that I added a few drops of essential oil to. I think it was a combination of all of it that really helped. I noticed that doing this routine also changed my attitude and I became more relaxed too.” ~Diane


So Which Essential Oils Are the Best Ones to Use?



Aromatherapy and dementia

Probably the most popular and widely used essential oil, lavender is not an expensive oil. Lavender is thought to be calming and to balance strong emotions. It is often used to treat anger, irritability, and depression.

Aromatherapy and DementiaBergamot

This is another good one for treating anxiety, agitation, mild depression and stress. Some people add this to bath water and diffuse into the air for benefits.


Lemon Balm

Memory Care


This is one of the more expensive essential oils. However, it is also one of the most studied oils for treating dementia symptoms. Lemon Balm has been shown to relax and calm someone dealing with anxiety.  Studies have also show that it helps improve memory and also digestion. Using in a bath, inhaled or massaged into the skin are all good ways to use this oil.

Ylang Ylang

Aromatherapy and Dementia

This oil is often used to help people get a good night sleep.It is often combined with lemon oil. Good for the dementia patient and caregiver alike.


Aromatherapy and Dementia


A lot of time people with dementia may also suffer from digestive issues. Ginger oil massaged into the abdomen may help with constipation. Additionally, it will help to stimulate the appetite.


There is no hard evidence that essential oils will cure anything. However, the use of essential oils may have a calming effect. This can help when you are dealing with difficult dementia behaviors. The great news is that using the oils will benefit both the caregiver and the care receiver. I would call this a win/win, how about you?

At Sycamore Creek Ranch our focus is on individual person-centered care. Aromatherapy, adaptive and fiber optic lighting, textures, and other brain teasers are used as the first response to behavioral challenges, rather than the typical medicinal approach used in most facilities.

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