Essential Oils for Dementia – A Study

Essential oils for dementia

Inane and Insane Claims for Essential Oils

When reading articles about the benefits of essential oils, I often think ‘where’s the proof?’ The proof is there in people’s experiences but this is often corrupted by insane (and inane) claims from essential oils distributors and especially by the big suppliers. This is as true for the prospect of essential oils for dementia as anything else. Take some of these claims for example, which I read very recently from a major supplier:-

  • Removes radiation from the body
  • Breaks down/releases petrochemicals
  • Flushes out the liver and kidneys
  • Purifies water

These claims are simply not tenable – (I howled laughing at the radiation claim in particular), and I will cover them in another article very soon. So when I wanted to  examine claims for essential oils for dementia , I made very sure that I looked for academic papers to support the claims.

The Key Study on Essential Oils for Dementia

The key study used in this article is  Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer’s disease” by Daiki JIMBO, Yuki KIMURA, Miyako TANIGUCHI, Masashi INOUE, Katsuya URAKAMI and it was published in 2010 by the Japanese Psychogeriatric Society. In this article I shall be presenting the key points of the research and its findings.

In this present study, we examined the curative effects of aromatherapy in dementia (essential oils for dementia) in 28 elderly people, 17 of whom had Alzheimer’s disease.

 High Life Expectancy and Dementia

Japan, having the highest life expectancy in the world, has seen a remarkable increase in senile dementia in recent years. This has become a big social problem, with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) accounting for approximately half the number of cases of dementia. Thus, preventive medicine for dementia has become an increasingly important health goal. Recently, complementary alternative medicine, which, in addition to using medications, also makes use of various ‘non-pharmacological’ approaches, has become an attractive alternative in the treatment of senile dementia after the introduction of elderly care insurance. Aromatherapy (essential oils for dementia) is one of the therapies used in complementary alternative medicine.

The Uncertain Mechanisms of Aromatherapy for treating dementia

The mechanism(s) of action of  the underlying the effects of aromatherapy are not known for certain. In healthy people, essential oils of rosemary and lavender are commonly used and there is at least one report showing that these oils influence feelings about a person’s surroundings.  Moreover, lavender oil has been reported to diminish the intensity of sleep disorders.

Although there are few reports on aromatherapy in senile dementia, it has been suggested that aromatherapy may bring about some feeling of relief . However, there are no reports of the effects of aromatherapy on cognitive functional disorder, often seen in cases of dementia and the central feature of senile dementia. Disorders of cognitive function pose considerable problems for both AD patients and care workers.

The effect of essential oils on the cerebral limbic system

The action of aromatherapy begins from a smell molecule combined with an acceptor peculiar to each specific odor. The smell molecule passes along the nasal cavity and adheres to the olfactory epithelium. The stimulus is transmitted to the hippocampus or cerebral limbic system and amygdaloid body through the olfactory nerve system currently concentrated on the olfactory epithelium.

Although this process is deeply related to cognitive function, the odor is recognized and the stimulus sends information to the hypothalamus on which it was projected by the cerebral limbic system, which then adjusts the autonomic nervous system and the internal secretory system, guiding a series of vital reactions in the hippocampus or amygdaloid body, such as the discharge of neurotransmitters. In brief, aromatherapy is the result of the vital reaction that occurs through the smell molecule.

Although some reports have proposed that the sense of smell is decreased in AD patients, nerve rebirth through smell is possible. We also suspected that patients’ cognitive function could be improved by stimulation through the sense of smell.

Essential oils for dementia safer than mainstream treatments

The aromatherapy treatment used in the present study is physically safer and easier to apply than mainstream treatments, such as massage and baths, so the operator feels no limitation because he or she can work through purely aromatic means.

Initially, the level of cognitive function was assessed using the Gottfries, Brane, Steen (GBSS-J) and Touch-panel type Dementia Assessment Scale (TDAS). Aromatherapy was applied to AD patients using a combination of a lavender oil–orange oil solution, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system, with a rosemary oil–lemon oil solution used to relieve depression and heighten concentration.


After a control period of 28 days, aromatherapy was performed over the following 28 days, with a wash out period of another 28 days. Aromatherapy consisted of the use of rosemary and lemon essential oils in the morning, and lavender and orange in the evening. To determine the effects of aromatherapy, patients were evaluated using the Japanese version of the Gottfries, Brane, Steen scale (GBSS-J), Functional Assessment Staging of Alzheimer’s disease (FAST), a revised version of Hasegawa’s Dementia Scale (HDS-R), and the Touch Panel-type Dementia Assessment Scale (TDAS) four times: before the control period, after the control period, after aromatherapy, and after the washout period.

Results of study on essential oils for dementia

All patients showed significant improvement in personal orientation related to cognitive function on both the GBSS-J and TDAS after therapy. In particular, patients with AD showed significant improvement in total TDAS scores. Result of routine laboratory tests showed no significant changes, suggesting that there were no side-effects associated with the use of aromatherapy. Results from Zarit’s score showed no significant changes, suggesting that caregivers had no effect on the improved patient scores seen in the other tests.

In conclusion, we found aromatherapy an efficacious non-pharmacological therapy for dementia. Aromatherapy may have some potential for improving cognitive function, especially in AD patients.

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