Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. In 2014, about 1 in 9 Americans aged 65 and older developed Alzheimer’s, and the estimated cost of care in 2014 was 200 billion, with an additional 200 billion dollars’ worth of unpaid care given by families. With America’s aging population, predictions are that these percentages will rise substantially(5).
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that damages and eventually destroys brain cells, leading to memory loss and changes in thinking and other brain functions(4). Symptoms include spatial confusion, disorientation, suspicion of others, emotional/mood disturbances, time and event confusion, serious memory loss and behavior changes; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking(4). There are no treatments at this time that are curative or preventative. Essential oils, however, may increase the quality of life for those suffering from Alzheimer’s by providing relief for certain symptoms.
Olfactory stimulation can benefit individuals who suffer from memory loss. Smell can be linked to many potent memories and can help those with dementia remember and reminisce about times past. Unfortunately regular aging alone can damage olfactory senses and dementia and Alzheimer’s can result in little to no ability to smell. However, there are a few things that can be done to help preserve ability to smell. Keep moisture in the air by using a humidifier if necessary, maintain healthy levels of zinc through foods or supplements and remember to exercise it. Aromatherapy can be used to stimulate the sense of smell. Talk about memories certain smells trigger, beginning with common scents like rosemary or other common spices(6). Take your time doing this, starting with basic smells, and have fun.
Several studies into the efficacy of essential oils for the treatment of dementias including Alzheimer’s have been conducted. While more research is needed, what has been done is very encouraging. For example, lemon balm and lavender have been shown to increase functional abilities and communication and reduce difficult behavior. In another study, lavender aroma and massage reduced the frequency of excessive motor behavior as well as agitated behavior. In another, lemon balm (Melissa) lotion applied to the face and arms was associated with improved social behavior and increased constructive activities (1). Other research, using lemon and rosemary in the morning, and orange and lavender in the evenings, found their patients showed significant improvement in personal orientation related to cognitive function at the conclusion of the 28 day study(3).
Essential oils can be used to relieve anxiety which can benefit the patient and caregivers as well. Oils such as lavender, ylang ylang, and bergamot are great for alleviating stress and anxiety, with lavender and lemon balm being the better choices for anger, agitation or irritability.
Oils commonly used for memory, increased focus and cognitive support are rosemary, lavender, spanish sage, peppermint, frankincense, and/or basil. For depression issues, it’s worth considering orange, ylang ylang, lemon, grapefruit, Davina’s Liquid Sunshine blend, or lavender. If experiencing indigestion, Tummy Tamer blend by Davina, basil ct. linalool or lemon can provide relief.
As you have likely noticed, essential oils can have multiple uses. This is because each oil has a variety of chemical compounds or constituents which cause the oils to have a range of medicinal properties. In the case of basil ct. linalool, the same oil that can support cognitive function can also ease digestive issues. There is an incredible variety of essential oils with an equally impressive range of application. Thanks to an increased interest in essential oils, many traditional uses for oils are being validated through scientific research.
- Perry, E. (2016) Aromatherapy for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The Journal of Quality Research in Dementia, (3). Retrieved from https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=306&pageNumber=2
- Tundis, R., Loizzo, M. R., Bonesi, M., Menichini, F., Mastellone, V., Colica, C., & Menichini, F. (2012). Comparative study on the antioxidant capacity and cholinesterase inhibitory activity of citrus aurantifolia swingle, C. aurantium L., and C. bergamia risso and poit. peel essential oils. Journal Of Food Science, (1-3), 40. Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=c0916e49-2320-4ccf-ab65-37068a97ebce%40sessionmgr4003&hid=4213
- Jimbo, D., Kimura, Y., Taniguchi, M., Inoue, M., & Urakami, K. (2009). Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Psychogeriatrics, 9(4), 173-179. doi:10.1111/j.1479-8301.2009.00299.x Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=9&sid=c0916e49-2320-4ccf-ab65-37068a97ebce%40sessionmgr4003&hid=4213
- Alzheimer’s Association. (2015) About Alzheimer’s and dementia. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_research.asp
- Alzheimer’s Association. (2014) 2014 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures. Retrieved from: http://www.alz.org/downloads/facts_figures_2014.pdf
- Schmid, J. (2010) Olfactory stimulation for Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Retrieved from http://www.best-alzheimers-products.com/olfactory-stimulation.html