A fragrance is an essence of long-term memories. One whiff of a childhood aroma can set the memory in motion, bringing back thoughts, faces, and feelings long forgotten. Fragrance consists of volatile molecules that float in the air. Millions of olfactory receptor cells line the nose, and aroma causes these nerves to fire and sends messages to the limbic area of the brain. From there, the messages travel to other parts of the brain, activating thought and memory. The pituitary gland is also stimulated to release chemical messages that travel via the blood to glands and organs that create physical body responses.
This means that a scent has the potential power to activate a number of physical and emotional responses. Aromatherapy is the ancient art of using essential oils to benefit your physical, spiritual and psychological well-being. Essential oils have been used for centuries as healing agents, a fragrance for promoting health and relaxation, as well as a guard against bacteria, molds, fungi and other microorganisms.
Scientists have referred to essential oils as the life force of a plant. Many essential oils are very complex molecules. A single oil can contain hundreds of constituents that are molecularly aligned in exactly the right manner to trigger a number of responses in the human body. Essential oils are stored in minute quantities in special cells, ducts, or glandular hairs that are distributed among the roots, leaves, bark, stems, and flowers of the plant. When concentrated, a single drop or two of distilled therapeutic-grade oil can produce quick and significant results.
Essential oils can be absorbed in several ways; through our sense of smell, through our skin, even as a dietary supplement. Aroma is absorbed through our nose to the brain where memory, hunger, moods, and even sexual responses are evoked. Before knowing we smell an aroma, our subconscious mind reacts to it. Aromatherapy can benefit stress-related problems and promote a positive state of energy, health, and well-being.
Because of their molecular structures, essential oils are rapidly absorbed when applied to the skin. Silky smooth to the touch, they penetrate the outer layer of the skin. It is often possible to smell some oils on the breath shortly after applying them to the body. The combination of touch therapy with the right essential oils can have a very natural therapeutic effect on someone, rather than treating the resident with psychotropic prescription drugs.
Most essential oils are “GRAS” – Generally Regarded as Safe (by the FDA) for internal use or certified as Food Additives, which can be safely taken internally as a dietary supplement. When you purchase your oils ask for information available on oil safety. Some 2 •The One Minute Caregiver • Aromatherapy for Alzheimer’s oils such as valerian, lemon, grapefruit, orange, and tangerine are more effective when taken orally.
There is ample research to demonstrate the human response to essential oils. Some oils such as Peppermint, Rosemary, Jasmine, Lemongrass, and Grapefruit stimulate and have an uplifting effect on the body. Others such as Lavender, Rose, Geranium, Sandalwood, and Ylang-Ylang have a relaxing or sedating effect on the body. With Alzheimer’s residents, we can use uplifting oils in the morning to stimulate residents’ appetites and energy levels by diffusing the oils into the room or applying them directly to clothing or tissues. In the afternoon when many dementia sufferers often experience anxiety or “sundowning”, relaxing oils can be used for individuals or in a small group setting to relieve the anxiety without the use of psychotropic medications. Blends of oils have been developed specifically for this purpose, such as the blend of Peace and Calming, which includes the essential oils of Tangerine, Orange, Ylang-Ylang, Patchouly and Blue Tansy. People who have a habit of wandering during the night or with interrupted sleep cycles can find relaxation with a spritz of lavender oil on their pillowcase. A few drops on a tissue or diffused into their room can actually help with insomnia.
Other oils can be used to boost self-esteem and create a grounding effect for tearful residents. A special blend of Spruce, Rosewood, and Frankincense called Valor has been used successfully to restore confidence and well-being in people. Another blend called Thieves was created based on research about four thieves in France who protected themselves with Cloves, Rosemary, Lemon, and Cinnamon while robbing plague victims. This blend was tested at Weber State University, Ogden, Utah, and found to have a 99.96 percent effective rate against airborne bacteria. Diffusing these oils can be very effective during the cold and flu season. Many hospitals in Europe routinely diffuse essential oils to purify the air. Simply put, essential oils act as the bloodstream of the plant to ward off bacteriological attacks in their own natural environment.
Here is a list of great essential oils for use in dementia care along with their application and effect:
Evolve at Rye is an assisted living community devoted to people with memory disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. We are dedicated to providing the residents assistance with compassion and understanding, and all our activities are failure-free and provide residents with moments of joy while achieving a sense of accomplishment and positive self-esteem.