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Q: I am an activity director at a nursing home and I am offering an aromatherapy group to our residents. I am looking to purchase more products, but I am unsure of what essential oils work better with the elderly. I am wondering if you could send me any information that you may have on your products and any scientific research that shows the benefits of aromatherapy use with the elderly. I would also like a few samples of your product if possible. Thank you very Much - J. K.
A: Dear J., I am always very glad to see people involved in elder-care getting interested in aromatherapy because this is an area in which essential oils have a great deal to offer in terms of improving quality of life.
There are two books that have excellent chapters on this topic. They are Clinical Aromatherapy in Nursing by Jane Buckle, and Aromatherapy for Health Professionals by Shirley and Len Price. Both have good research summaries and lots of practical suggestions.
The areas in which essential oils have been shown to have especially good applications for care of the elderly include: sleep disturbances, dementia, constipation, skin ulcers, and osteoarthritis. If you want to start slowly, I suggest that you try working with Lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia) to help with insomnia, restlessness, aggressiveness, and mild pain.
One of the best ways to use lavender with elderly patients is to give it in a gentle hand and arm massage. Put one or two drops of lavender in a teaspoon of carrier oil (grapeseed oil is gentle and will not cause problems for people with nut allergies) and spend about ten or fifteen minutes very gently massaging this mixture into the person's hand and forearm. Of course, you can massage on the shoulders, back, legs etc and may want to if there is pain in these areas but a hand massage is so easy to do because the person doesn't have to remove any clothing and can just be seated in their chair or bed.
Another option is to diffuse lavender into the air. If you do this, use a small fan diffuser in the patient's room and put only two or three drops of lavender on it. A fan diffuser has no burning candle (which of course must not be used in a care facility) and also has the advantage of allowing you to control the dose exactly. There are larger professional model diffusers that can put essential oil into larger, communal spaces but with these you cannot control the dosage as well.