Seven Ways To Use Aromatherapy To Care For The Elderly At Home

Caring for an elderly loved one at home can be challenging, and many caregivers struggle to make the right choices for aging family members who endure common health problems such as weight loss, immobility or insomnia.

Aromatherapy, when used properly, is a safe, simple and effective tool for many at-home caregivers who face these hurdles. The use of pure essential oils complements traditional medicine and may stimulate appetite, energize and promote relaxation in elderly patients, said registered dietician Barbara Bauer, Clinical Nutrition Program Manager at Sharp Coronado Hospital.

“Through our use of aromatherapy at Sharp Coronado, as well as Villa Coronado Skilled Nursing Facility, I’ve seen many elderly patients improve to the point where they no longer need to take appetite stimulants and their sleep medications are decreased,” said Bauer, a 35-year employee of Sharp Coronado whose 2010 study linking aromatherapy and appetite stimulation gained national attention.

“The same methods we employ at these medical facilities can be used by at-home caregivers to comfort elderly family members,” Bauer said. “Patients and their caregivers also appreciate the scent of the essential oils used in aromatherapy.”

Essential oils are inexpensive, long-lasting and available at several health food stores and pharmacies, including the Sharp Coronado Community Pharmacy on Prospect Place. The following are seven useful tips from Bauer for incorporating aromatherapy into home elder care:

To encourage alertness, put a drop of peppermint oil on a cotton ball and place nearby. Peppermint is known for its energizing properties. “This is particularly good for mid-day, when many of us need a pick-me-up,” Bauer said.

To stimulate appetite, apply a dab of Citrus Bliss, cardamom, bergamot or ginger essential oil with a cotton swab onto clothing or protective covering at mealtime; near the nose. In Bauer’s 2010 study, staff applied Citrus Bliss to patients’ coverings during two meals each day, and most of the 50 patients tracked stopped losing weight. Six of the seven patients who were taking steroidal appetite stimulants transitioned off the medication, maintaining their weight without unpleasant side effects.

Put a drop of lavender oil onto a cotton ball and place inside a pillow case at bedtime to encourage sleep. The scent of lavender induces relaxation, and many Sharp Coronado staff members place lavender behind their computers on particularly stressful days, Bauer said.

Run a bath before bedtime and sprinkle a few drops of lavender oil into the water. Baby-care companies have been touting the relaxing effect of lavender-scented bath soap for decades, and the same principle applies to adults, Bauer added.  

Use a few drops of any essential oil — depending upon the desired effect — in a diffuser or humidifier. Mix essential oil with unscented lotion and massage onto the skin. Peppermint lotion will energize, lavender lotion will relax, and citrus lotion will stimulate appetite. Softer, more moisturized skin is an added benefit. Bauer recommends starting with one drop of oil per 4 ounces of lotion and adding from there.

Burn a candle scented with the desired essential oil. Alternatively, place a candle (in a glass jar) onto an electric cup warmer. Bauer occasionally uses this option in her office, where open flames are not allowed.

Essential oils are derived from nature and are chemical-free. Bauer has never seen a patient experience an allergic reaction to essential oils, she said. However, some patients may dislike the scent of certain oils, and she advises caretakers to let their loved ones smell the oils before use. She also warns that essential oils in their pure form shouldn’t be applied directly to the skin, as they have the potential to cause irritation.

Complementary therapies such as aromatherapy are just a part of the extraordinary level of care provided by caregivers at Sharp Coronado. To learn more, call 619-522-3600 or visit