Friday, 29 July 2016

Essential Oils and Dementia: Thoughts From the Alzheimer's and Dementia Summit

As I had posted on my Facebook page, I signed up to the free online screening of the Alzheimer's and Dementia Summit, which is running from the 25th of July to the 1st of August, with talks available for purchase for those who have to watch them later. The talks featured in this summit cover a wide range of ways to prevent and treat dementia (Alzheimer's is a form of dementia), from often complex nutritional medicine and detoxification to the simpler things such as use of essential oils. While changing your diet can take a long time, as old habits are hard to break, essential oils, whether they be inhaled or used topically (on the skin), don't require often major changes.

One of the studies described in the talk on essential oils tested the use of rosemary and lemon essential oils in the morning, and lavender and orange oils in the evening. The study involved 28 patients, who were given aromatherapy with these oils for 28 days after a control period, with another 28 day washout period afterwards. After the aromatherapy period, all patients showed significant improvement in personal orientation, related to cognitive function, on two scales used to measure the severity of dementia. Patients with Alzheimer's disease showed significant improvement in the total scores of the Touch Panel-type Dementia Assessment Scale. Routine laboratory tests showed no changes, suggesting a lack of side-effects. There were also no significant changes in the Zarit's score, meaning that caregivers had no effect on the results.

In another, essential oils of lavender, sweet marjoram, vetiver and patchouli were blended into a cream and massaged into the bodies or limbs of 56 patients with moderate to severe dementia. Patients were divided into two groups, where one would receive the treatment for 4 weeks and the other would only receive a plain cream, with interventions switched for the next 4 weeks. During treatment, both groups showed significant drops in frequency and severity of "dementia-related behaviours" in comparison to control periods. In one group, "resistance to nursing care" increased during treatment, which likely reflected greater awareness and alertness. There was also a small but significant increase in Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) scores, suggesting increases in cognitive function, for the seven residents who scored above 0 on the MMSE before treatment. One important thing to remember, as stated by the speaker, is that inhalation of the essential oils is only effective when the patient still has a sense of smell. If they have lost this, then the oils must be given in a cream.

In a third trial, lavender, geranium and mandarin oils in an almond oil base were applied to the skin of 39 patients. Increased alertness and contentment; improved sleep; and less agitation, withdrawal and wandering were observed. An open-label trial that was also discussed involved the use of several essential oils, including ylang ylang, rosemary, patchouli and peppermint. These produced a marked decrease in "disturbed behaviours", thus leading to reduced usage of pharmaceutical drugs. In a placebo-controlled trial, lemon balm and lavender oils were given to six patients, which increased functional abilities and communication while decreasing "difficult behaviour". Overall, essential oils seem to be a simple and effective complementary therapy for dementia, and even if you want to add something more complex such as dietary changes, it's a good place to start.

(Image: lemon balm. Source: Werner100359; CC BY SA: 3.0)

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