Aromatherapy in Dementia

In a consensus statement recently posted by the British Affiliation for Psychopharmacology,1 the use of aromatherapy as an adjunct to the pharmacological treatment of dementia is supported by a person of the highest amount of scientific evidence – evidence from randomized controlled trials.

A amount of latest, controlled scientific tests have shown that aromatherapy (the therapeutic use of pure plant crucial oils) can be helpful in the administration of clients with dementia: lavender (Lavandula angustifolia or Lavandula officinalis) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) are two critical oils of individual desire in this spot. The purpose of the post by Holmes & Ballard,2 summarized in this article, was to assessment printed experiences of the efficacy of aromatherapy for the treatment method of behavioural difficulties in people today with dementia.

The effects of these reports are attention-grabbing as their findings simply cannot be dismissed as just resulting from the placebo effect of a enjoyable-smelling fragrance: as the authors observe, most people with serious dementia will have dropped any meaningful sense of scent for the reason that of the early reduction of olfactory neurons.3 In fact, the pharmacological mechanism by which aromatherapy provides its results is not thought to entail any notion of odour. Instead, the energetic compounds are imagined to enter the overall body (by absorption by the lungs or olfactory mucosa) and be shipped to the brain through the bloodstream, the place they elicit immediate actions.

Aromatherapy experiments in sufferers with dementia A significant variety of smaller, uncontrolled case reports have shown the efficacy of inhaled and/or topical lavender oil in this placing. In summary, these research have shown lavender oil to strengthen snooze designs,4-7 and to boost behaviour.8,9

Although only a several controlled scientific studies have investigated the likely use of aromatherapy for the administration of behavioural complications in persons with dementia, the final results have been favourable. A one-blind, case-managed analyze investigated the outcomes of lavender crucial oil on disordered conduct in clients with serious dementia.10,11 Patients (n=21) were randomized to obtain massage only, lavender important oil administered as therapeutic massage or lavender oil administered through inhalation moreover discussion. Of the three client teams, individuals getting the important oil in a therapeutic massage showed a significantly larger reduction in the frequency of abnormal motor conduct.

In a compact (n=15) double-blind, placebo-managed, crossover trial in people with severe dementia on an NHS treatment ward,11,12 2% lavender oil was administered in an aroma diffuser on the ward for a 2-hour time period, alternated with placebo (water) each individual other day, for a full of ten treatment periods. In accordance to the team median Pittsburgh Agitation Scale score, therapy with lavender aromatherapy decreased agitated conduct significantly (p=.016) in clients with critical dementia when compared with placebo, with 60% of individuals suffering from some gain. No adverse activities were being reported and compliance with therapy was 100%.

In a crossover study,13 56 elderly clients with reasonable to serious dementia ended up massaged with a cream containing a mix of 4 necessary oils (lavender, sweet marjoram, patchouli and vetiver) or product by itself five instances a day for 8 months. Behavioural issues and resistance to care were being substantially lower in patients who obtained the product containing the necessary oils compared with those who gained the product alone.

In the major double-blind, placebo-controlled analyze posted at the time this evaluate was composed,11,14 72 clients with significant dementia in NHS continuing care were being randomized to acquire both lemon balm critical oil (n=36) or sunflower oil (n=36) used topically as a cream twice a working day, in addition to patients’ current psychotropic treatment. Clinically significant improvements in agitation (as assessed using the Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory [CMAI]) and high-quality of daily life indices had been in contrast amongst the two teams about a 4-week interval of therapy. A 30% reduction in CMAI rating was viewed in 60% of the active treatment team and 14% of the handle team. The over-all improvement in agitation (suggest reduction in CMAI rating) was 35% in people dealt with with lemon balm in comparison with 11% in all those getting placebo (pMethodological troubles

In their post, Holmes & Ballard2 draw interest to a number of methodological challenges that want to be regarded in the design and style of potential experiments investigating the potential purpose of aromatherapy in the clinical treatment method of behavioural and psychiatric signs and symptoms in people today with dementia.

Even though most folks with critical dementia have tiny feeling of scent, the scientists evaluating the research may possibly be equipped to identify the critical oil being tested, which could compromise a double-blind examine. This dilemma can be get over in a variety of approaches, this sort of as applying observational measures as the key outcomes of the examine, providing researchers with masks infused with fragrance or nose clips to put on when examining participants, infusing the atmosphere with handle fragrances and masking the aroma of the crucial oil with air fresheners.

In addition, as massive placebo responses have been observed in several experiments investigating the remedy of behavioural or psychiatric signs and symptoms in people with dementia, it is important, in reports investigating the results of crucial oils, that the control and aromatherapy interventions contain related quantities of time and contact with each individual participant.


Holmes & Ballard2 conclude that though there is a great deal case-primarily based evidence suggesting the efficacy of aromatherapy in bettering slumber, agitated behaviours and resistance to treatment in dementia, there is a marked deficiency of sufficiently sized, placebo-controlled, randomized scientific tests in this area. Even though one particular placebo-managed study has demonstrated proof that aromatherapy may well be helpful as adjunct to present therapy in the administration of clients with dementia, this review experienced a number of methodological flaws.

The authors establish a range of vital concerns that require to be dealt with in researching the efficacy of aromatherapy in people with dementia, together with:

  • Patients with diverse sorts of dementia respond in different ways to pharmacological agents whether or not the similar is real concerning their reaction to aromatherapy remains to be identified.
  • Essential oils are administered by therapeutic massage in various ‘carriers’ (e.g. skin lotions, therapeutic massage oils), and for that reason require the ‘additional therapy’ of bodily get hold of with carers. Evidently, this more remedy wants to be minimised or managed for just before immediate inferences can be manufactured about the results of aromatherapy by itself.
  • If it is recognized that there are lively neurochemical variations among critical oils, then research must investigate not only the oils from various genuses but should also examine those people from relevant species (e.g. Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula officinalis).
  • Properly done, perfectly-designed, randomized, managed trials are essential right before organization conclusions pertaining to the efficacy and safety of vital oils can be drawn.


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  10. Smallwood J, Brown R, Coulter F et al. Aromatherapy and conduct disturbances in dementia: a randomized controlled demo. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 200116:1010-13.
  11. Burns A, Byrne J, Ballard C et al. Sensory stimulation in dementia. BMJ 2002325:1312-15.
  12. Holmes C, Hopkins V, Hensford C et al. Lavender oil as a treatment for agitated conduct in critical dementia. International Journal of Psychogeriatric Psychiatry 200117:305-8.
  13. Bowles EJ, Griffiths DM, Quirk L et al. Consequences of crucial oils and touch on resistance to nursing care treatments and other dementia relevant behaviours in a household treatment facility. Intercontinental Journal of Aromatherapy 200212:22-9.
  14. Ballard CG, O’Brien JT, Reichelt K et al. Aromatherapy as a protected and effective cure for the management of agitation in severe dementia: the results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with Melissa. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 200263:553-8.
  15. Thorgrimsen L, Spector A, Wiles A, Orrell M. Aroma remedy for dementia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Opinions 2003(3):CD003150.
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