Aromatherapy in Aged Care

Aromatherapy may not be something you expect to see in an aged care facility, but it has been proven to have a number of positive effects on aged care residents if used appropriately.

In aged care, it’s not uncommon for older people to experience symptoms such as loss of appetite, anxiety or trouble sleeping at night. And for those caring for them, you naturally want to try everything you can to ease their symptoms.

Aromatherapy can assist to soothe people’s moods, reduce anxiety and agitation. It also assists with symptoms related to poor circulation, dry and cracked skin, respiratory infections, arthritis, and it plays an important role improving concentration and memory.

Recollecting Memories Of Times Gone By…

The scents of aromatherapy often evoke past memories and these encourage older people’s conversation with you and others in their family.

The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, potentially more so than any of the other senses.

For older people, this could be the smell of perfumes they wore when they were younger, or of vintage hair products. It may be the familiar smell of the children or grandchildren.

Many older people will have had a garden at some point in their lives, and the essential oils contained in plants they grew will be very familiar to them. Surprisingly, the aroma of roses, rosemary and geranium, thyme and lemon and others frequently trigger past memories thought to be gone where nothing else has the same effect.

Ways essential oil blends can be used in aged care

Aromatherapy, through the use of essential oils and massage, can help soothe older people’s ailments. And different essential oil blends offer different benefits, with almost all having antiviral and antibacterial properties too.

For example;

  • Lavender improves sleep quality, promotes better concentration and reduces anxiety.
  • Peppermint oil helps alleviate nausea, headache, upset stomach, gas, indigestion, and anxiety
  • Lemon and Lemongrass increase alertness, concentration and vigour
  • Rose and Rosewood have anti-depressant and mood-boosting assets.

And another benefit of aromatherapy is that the resident themselves do not have do anything, it requires no other participation other than being there. It is often called the “pleasurable therapy”!

Aromacare has its own Lifestyle Aromatherapy Kit, this collection of aromatherapy products is specifically designed to be used by the lifestyle staff in health care facilities. It means you have everything to hand to support residents participating in lifestyle programs.

With the assistance of a qualified aromatherapist, aged care staff are able to recognise when to use and how to apply effective therapeutic interventions when providing care to people.

The products may be used in a number of ways;

  • Massaged directly into the skin
  • Put in a diffuser that disperses the essential oil blend in the air
  • Providing residents with warmed hand towels, previously soaked in essential oils diluted in water, to wash their face and hands before meals
  • A few drops placed on a pad or a resident’s pillow

The soothing benefits of aromatherapy also reduces the number of drugs prescribed for residents.

What does research tell us?

Research in the area tends to be from a few years back, and more recent research is hard to find although anecdotal reports from carers and clients as to aromatherapy’s effectiveness is significant.

In a 2002 study, essential oils were gently massaged five times a day onto the bodies and limbs of 56 aged care facility residents who all had dementia.

When compared to resident who were not receiving aromatherapy, these residents showed a “significant decrease in the average frequency and severity of dementia-related behaviours occurring”

A 2005 study into aromatherapy in aged care found that “directors of care also perceived that aromatherapy moderately reduces the amount of pharmaceuticals used.”

And that the main types of pharmaceuticals perceived to be reduced by aromatherapy were sedatives and analgesics.

As with any kind of therapy, it’s important that a health professional is consulted before starting, and that it is checked that it will not interact with any medication or illnesses that the person may have.

If you or someone you know is interested in exploring essential oil blends or aromatherapy, then a good place to start is Aromacare. They have tailored health care provider kits to support people with dementia and those receiving palliative care which contain a full range of essential oils and blends, creams and massage oils.

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