There are some interesting studies on the use of aromatherapy to help reduce agitation and anxiety in dementia patients. I thought it might help to discuss their use, safety and effectiveness as a possible means for families wanting to reduce negative behaviors and improve the quality of life of their loved ones. I’ll only give you information on Lemon balm and lavender today and will address some other aromas that may also prove usefull at another time.
In one recent study, Lemon balm ( also known as Melissa) lotion was applied to the face and arms of 36 patients who then exhibited highly significant reductions in agitation and social withdrawal. After treatment, the patients also appeared to be more interested in constructive activities. Lemon balm essential oil comes from the flower of the lemon balm plant. Used full strength, it can cause some skin irritation but a safe massaging lotion can be found in stores such as Whole Foods , Trader Joes and GNC.
Interestingly, most dementia patients experience a decrease in their sense of smell. So how does this work? When researchers tried to replicate these results using just the smell of the lemon balm, there seemed to be no effect on agitated people with dementia, but retests with the lotion were effective. Test were also done on hand massage alone, and the results were poor, leading researchers to believe the skin massage with the lemon balm lotion was the best mode of treatment.
Similar results were achieved using Lavender oil in lotion. In one study, lemon balm and lavender aroma were introduced to six patients and compared to a control group using sunflower oil for one week. The treatment with the lemon balm and lavender oil lotions increased functional abilities and communication, and decreased difficult behavior. There was no change in the group using the sunflower oil.
While the results may not always be the same for everyone, Aromatherapy may be something families may wish to try. In general, the aromas sold at the stores mentioned above, are the least harmful with the fewest potential risks. Lavender is thought to be the safest, but essential oils should be used with the same precautions as any other type of medication. Check with your loved one’s physician about their use, and get some advice from a qualified aromatherapist if possible.
Stephanie Zeman MSN RN