Making Sense of the Scents

Stop and smell the roses or pine cones or peppermint or…

written by Jennifer Waterman, MHA, LPN, CDP

Jennifer Waterman is the Avita Program Director Ledgewood Bay, a Northbridge Community in Milford, NH.  In this blog post she shares her experiences working with Aromatherapy in the community.

Aromatherapy has been around for thousands of years, it has recently gained popularity thanks to the latest trend in essential oils.  With so many brands of oil in in the essentials space it can become overwhelming, to the brain and the senses.

Do we need to invest in essential oils to benefit from aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is defined as the use of aroma to enhance a feeling of well-being.  Aromas can come from various forms: essential oils, bark, stems, peel, leaf, or food.

Think for a moment - what comes to mind when we picture freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. What about freshly baked bread, apple pie or popcorn? Is your mouth watering yet?  Most people agree that these aromas create a sense of comfort.

Aromatherapy can be practiced in many ways, at Ledgewood Bay some of the ways we practice are through cooking/baking, diffusing oils, and sensory discussion. People with dementia may have high levels of anxiety or agitation that comes from the feeling of being out of control or not understanding.  The use of aromatherapy helps to decrease these feelings and behaviors.

Cooking: When cooking/baking in our Avita neighborhood, aromas aide residents in reminiscing about a favorite recipe, holiday or memory. You can learn more about Northbridge’s signature Memory Making Baking program here: Memory Making Baking.

Diffuser: Another aromatherapy practice is diffusing essential oils.  A diffuser is a small appliance used to slowly expel a scented mist. It is used at Ledgewood Bay during conversations of reminiscing, or as a part of guided meditation.

Sensory Discussion: Aromatherapy is also used in sensory discussions; one recent example is our celebration of National Citrus Month this past January. Throughout the month residents in our sensory discussion group were able to see, smell and taste oranges, clementine’s, and grapefruits.  The aroma of citrus is said to help in focusing and uplifting a person’s spirit. Our residents and associates found this to be true and had significant positive reactions to the citrus scents.

Lotion: Hand massage is another way a person can benefit from aromatherapy. Lavender lotion, when applied, can be extremely calming.

Aromatherapy is a useful practice for those with dementia who maintain their sense of smell.  Studies have shown that various neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, are activated in the brain creating a positive reaction from the person.

As it relates to feelings of anxiety and agitation, the person living with dementia is not alone. Caregivers often feel overwhelmed and Aromatherapy may be beneficial to this group as well.

At a recent monthly dementia support group, attendees were surprised to find it was themed around scents and amazed to discover how beneficial Aromatherapy can be. Scents are easily accessible and often all around us. It could be as simple as everyday household items such as hand creams (lavender), soaps (peppermint), candles (citrus), body lotion(vanilla), incense (patchouli), spices (cloves/cinnamon), foods (popcorn), flowers (roses), and trees (pine).  Scents have the power to bring back memories and feelings of relaxation that all caregivers can benefit from.

If you find that you or someone you care for starts to feel overwhelmed, try to remember that you may need to stop and smell the roses or a pine cone or peppermint or… well you get the point.

Note: Please be aware that there are also hazards that can accompany essential oils.  Before using aromatherapy be sure to consult with a physician as some essential oils do have side effects that can lead to seizures, be volatile to pets, or can burn skin.

If you or someone you know could benefit from the wonderful way of life at a Northbridge community click here to visit our website and find the community closest to you!