Essential oils have been used for generations to ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia. Some caregivers are now using these trusted oils to ease anxiety, boost memory and improve the mood of loved ones living with dementia.
I am very excited to tell you we have added an activity to our calendar of aromatherapy, brought to us by Dr Delores Jacoby through the Better Living Center of Port Townsend. If this becomes popular with our residents, we may be able to add more days of this activity to the calendar. Dr. Delores has "calming oils" and applies through touch therapy on the hands, only if the resident is willing. Just being in the room with others getting the therapy should have a calming effect on all of us.
Dementia occurs when brain nerve cells become damaged. Being that this affects several areas of the brain, people experience dementia quite differently. There are various types of dementias, and they are often categorized by the part of the brain damaged and whether the condition worsens.
Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia in seniors over 65 years old is, has been researched extensively and essential oils can be of great help.
For instance, the effects of aromatherapy were evaluated on elderly people suffering from dementia, with the majority being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. They were given rosemary and lemon inhalations in the morning, then lavender and orange in the evening. Through multiple tests and forms of analysis, the "patients showed significant improvement in personal orientation" without any deleterious side effects.
As Yale Scientific so candidly points out, "There is something to be said for the consistent mood improvement across studies."This aromatherapy stuff is not hocus pocus, it's science! This is how Yale describes it:
When you smell lemon oil, [for example] some molecules dissolve in the mucus lining of the olfactory epithelium on the roof of the nasal cavity.
There, the molecules stimulate olfactory receptors. Olfactory sensory neurons carry the signals from the receptors to the olfactory bulb, which filters and begins processing the input signals of the lemon scent.
Mitral cells then carry the output signals from the olfactory bulb to the olfactory cortex, which allows you to perceive and recognize the tangy scent of lemon.
Interestingly, the mitral cells do not only lead to the olfactory cortex, they also carry the signals from the lemon scent to other areas in the brain's limbic system.
Some mitral cells connect directly to the amygdala, the brain structure involved in emotional learning and memory. Indeed, the olfactory system is the only sensory system that involves the amygdala and the limbic system in its primary processing pathway.
This link explains why smells are often linked to specific memories. For example, if you have had a positive experience with lemon meringue pie, the scent of lemon may induce positive thoughts.
There has recently been an upsurge in attention over the use of aromatherapy for Alzheimer's disease. Several essential oils are proving effective for treating symptoms of dementia including anxiety, sleep problems, and even memory and cognitive function.
"Aromatherapy" is a somewhat misleading term, since it is not necessarily the aroma of the oils used that creates the desired effect, rather a direct effect that the oils have on the body, whether through contact with the lungs (breathing), or the skin (massage or body oils and lotions).
Aging and dementias can both diminish the olfactory sense, but since a direct pharmacological effect of the oils is responsible for the healing effects, a diminished sense of smell should not be a concern when considering aromatherapy.
Article Submitted by: Cathi Jackson
San Juan Villa, Jefferson County's only memory care community
112 Castellano Way, Port Townsend