Aromatherapy And The Elderly, How Essential Oils Can Help

Aromatherapy And The Elderly

Old age can often bring life altering physical disabilities and weaknesses which were previously unimagined such as illnesses, a decline in vision, lack of flexibility, decreasing strength and balance and the list goes on… Aging may mean having to face loss of independence, bereavement,  and faltering mental acuity.

Aromatherapy can help alleviate those distressing physical discomforts and with using carefully selected essential oils, can  help to lift depression and anxiety, help to settle and reduce patterns of restlessness and ‘wandering’ behavior which can be seen in dementia patients.

Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Degenerative joint disease can manifest itself in a number of ways. Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is characterized by loss of cartilage and alterations of the subchondral bone. It occurs most frequently as ‘wear and tear’  and often by the age of 65, 80 per cent of people have joints showing signs of osteoarthritis, although only 25 per cent may have symptoms, but it can also be associated with traumatic physical stress, such as surgery, fractures and injuries along joint surfaces, or the strains put on joints by obesity.

Rheumatoid-arthritis typically affects the large knuckle joints of the hands, the wrists, elbows, knees and feet; it affects the hip joints less often than osteoarthritis does. There is evidence that, rather than relating to physical pressures, rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune reaction.

Antibodies developing against joint tissue causes an inflammatory response as the body’s adaptation to protect itself from a hostile environment. What triggers such a reaction remains largely unknown.

Rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the large knuckle joints of the hands as well as the wrists, elbows, Massage for the elderly must be performed very gently as they are much more vulnerable to pressure and joint injuries.

How Can Aromatherapy Can help

Detoxifying essential oils such as juniper, cypress, fennel and lemon are essential in helping the body eliminate toxins. They should be used in massage oils and baths.

Analgesic and anti-inflammatory oils such as German chamomile, eucalyptus, ginger, spike lavender, sweet marjoram and rosemary can be used in baths and in local massage and compresses on the affected joints. Local circulation can be stimulated by the use of rubefacient oils such as black pepper, ginger and marjoram.

Osteoarthritic joints are less likely to be inflated, but the treatment principles using aromatherapy are similar to those that apply to rheumatoid arthritis, perhaps with more emphasis on essential oils with analgesic and rubefacient properties such as black pepper, ginger, lavender, sweet marjoram, rosemary and thyme. See table below for a comprehensive list of essential oils to use.

Caution: When heat is applied to ease a stiff and painful joint, it is very important to gently move the joint as much as possible afterwards, otherwise the heat can cause congestion.

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is the wasting away of bone. The size of the bone remains the same but the structure becomes weaker and fragile because the balance between the breakdown of old tissue and the manufacture of replacement material osteoarthritisbecomes disrupted.

The most common cause is ageing — all bones suffer this condition when they become old enough. The density of bones is also affected by a diet containing too little calcium or protein, by prolonged immobilization and by hormonal disorders.

Despite the high statistic of osteoporosis in the elderly (one in twelve men over the age of 50 will suffer and one woman in every four over the age of 60 will break a bone), few suffer problematic symptoms unless it occurs in the vertebrae. Severe backache and gradual compression of weakened vertebrae will cause the sufferer to become round-shouldered and shorter in stature.

Women are more likely to be affected, due to hormonal changes after the menopause. Osteoporosis shows up mostly when a fall occurs and the weakened bone fractures too easily.

How Can Aromatherapy Help?

Many essential oils have analgesic (pain-relieving) properties  and one or a blend of these that appeals to the client or patient can prove to be very soothing and offer relief. Some of these oils are yarrow, myrrh, coriander, cypress, lavender, juniper berry and German chamomile. See table below for a comprehensive list of essential oils to use.

Regular gentle exercise can help to maintain good bone density and relieve the aches and pains associated with osteoporosis in the elderly.

Prevention and Self Help

Unfortunately there is no treatment to reverse the effects of osteoporosis, but the following can help maintain good bone density:

  • A mixed diet rich in calcium and protein with calcium supplements if necessary
  • Regular gentle exercise
  • Women (who are more prone to thinning bones than men) may benefit from HRT after the menopause, All elderly people should exercise caution to avoid falling, as broken bones will take longer to heal, and fractures will be future points of vulnerability.

Troubled Minds In The Elderly

aromatherapy can help the elderlyWhile the post-retirement years can be a time of serenity after the pressures of a working life, old age can also impose its own forms of stress.

Financial worries, loneliness and bereavement can be hard to bear, and those in a residential home may experience boredom with daily routine, loss of personal environment, status and identity, as well as the possible annoyances of communal living.

There is also the threat of dementia. People who have dementia may have very low moods and it is important to be alert in recognizing true depression. Dementia itself cannot be cured, but caring treatment from an
empathetic aromatherapist can alleviate many of the problems that accompany it.

Depression is also often seen in times of post retirement. It can be mild, moderate or severe and is usually characterized by psychological, physical and social symptoms, for example feelings of anxiety, sadness, hopelessness and reduced social activities with loss of contact with friends.

The causes are varied and complex, though some triggers include distressing life events such as the death of a family member, physical illness, relationship difficulties and money problems. Many people turn to natural and complementary therapies such as aromatherapy for help.

Sometimes the simplest treatments are the best. Just holding hands with a patient, singing or humming with them or gentle stroking can be very soothing.

Recollecting Memories Of Times Gone By…

recollections of the elderlyThere have been some very good projects in various hospitals, one of which worked on the odours of essential oils. Lavender struck an obvious chord as the elderly patients thought of their gardens and of bygone times.

Many recalled their grandparents’ gardens and chatted happily as they remembered their childhoods. Others talked of making lavender bags and drying stems and ‘forking’ the flower heads into a bowl.

Shoulders that were hunched at the beginning of the session had eased and the patients were fully awake, but relaxed. The memories attached to different odors is an interesting subject, English lavender worked for the English patients — I wonder what would awaken the memories of those in other countries?)

How Can Aromatherapy Help?

For clients who would like a short massage this would be the best way to help. If appropriate, you could also provide a blend to add to the bath or for a vaporizer, so that the client could use the blend themselves between treatments. Clients or patients also seem to respond well to gentle stroking, singing/humming or even just holding a hand.

Essential oils in a room diffuser can have a good effect on anxiety — grapefruit or lemon in the morning is refreshing, while clary sage, geranium and lavender used later in the day can help to calm and balance (agitation often increases as the day progresses). Neroli and possibly jasmine are also recommended for anxiety.

Good sleep patterns can also be established, stemming from the relaxation induced by aromatherapy and the use of essential oils. Insomnia may be helped by lavender and marjoram: suggest 1-2 drops on tissues or bedclothes, in an evening bath or applied through massage or stroking.

Bergamot, lavender, neroli and rose are helpful aids to restlessness, and for the restless client who is irritable.

And if they have difficulty in sleeping, a good choice would be Roman chamomile, clary sage, lavender, sandalwood and ylang ylang. For fatigue and lethargy, try bergamot, geranium, melissa and rose.

See table below for a comprehensive list of essential oils to use.

essential oils from flowers and herbs

essential oils from flowers and herbs

Interestingly, another of scientific studies have indicated that while depressed individuals had no problem identifying different odors, depression does not appear to muffle the sense of smell.

But, whether or not clients have a reduced sense of smell, their own preferences should be taken into account when selecting oils.

This will help to determine the clients changing moods and needs-usually clients preferences will often be the right choice at that particular time.

In all cases you should take care when selecting the range of oils that the client can choose from: sedative oils may be ideal for those who are anxious, irritable or having difficulty sleeping, but are unlikely to benefit those who are feeling abnormally fatigued or lethargic. It is important to establish just how precisely depression is affecting the individual.

Rosemary is it good choice of memory loss.but if there is a possibility of high blood pressure, it can be a risk.find out what kind of music the person likes and listening with is relaxing and a trip down memory lane in words or song provides moments of dignity and well-being for them.

Recommended Essential Oils  For Physical Symptoms

Before using essential oils on the elderly, check on any cautions all contrainterdictions. It is advisable to use only half a normal concentration of essential oils when massaging the elderly, for example use a one percent blend. Sometimes drops in a pillow or in a vaporizer may be just as beneficial and preferable.

SymptomRecommended OilsHow To Use
Arthritis, Swollen JointsLavender, juniper, marjoram, chamomile, cypressBath, compress, massage and rub affected area with massage oils and aloe vera gel
BruisesLavender, tea tree oilBath, compress, dab on 1-2 drops with cotton wool
Catarrahcedarwood, eucalyptus, frankincense, mint, lavender, lemonInhalation, bathe and compress
Poor Circulationcypress, juniper,lemon, marjoram, orange,rosemaryBath, massage and rub with massage oil
Constipationmarjoram, mint, orange, tangerine, ylang ylangBath, massage and run abdomen in clockwise directin with massage oil
Convalescenceclary sage, nerolibath, massage, electric essential oil diffuser
Coughs / Flu / Coldscedarwood, myrtle, eucalyptus, marjoram, lemon, lavenderMassage/ rub throat and chest with massage oil and use electric essential oil diffuser

Aromatherapy And The Elderly

As you can see, aromatherapy can be an effective way to offer pain relief for the elderly with a careful choice of essential oils. Often the gentle attention and physical contact with an older person will also play a role in healing and bringing relief for them. A diffuser gently wafting a blend or singular oil in their room or house can make all the difference to their mood.

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