Making a Sense-ation: The Benefits of Aromatherapy for Older Adults
Posted on April 14, 2015 by Sulekha Zaug
To combat the lack of sunshine and general bleakness of one of New York’s coldest, snowiest winters, we at Atria on the Hudson discovered a creative, sense-ational way to beat the winter blues: aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy involves the use of highly concentrated molecules distilled from the leaves, fruits, seeds and flowers of various plants to warm the spirit, treat symptoms of influenza and eliminate stuffy odors indoors during the cold months, among other benefits. Each oil features a unique combination of elements that interacts with your body’s chemistry and produces therapeutic effects. Using oils to promote physical and mental well-being has been practiced around the world for thousands of years. Here in the U.S., we’re just starting to scratch the surface.
I can’t personally guarantee aromatherapy will keep older adults healthy and free of illness – while also curing the seasonal blahs – but I can say it’s been a big help at our community.
Diffusing oils, or dispersing them through the air, can produce specific effects. Citrus oils tend to be energetic and uplifting while spicy oils like ginger and nutmeg are great for warming the spirit. If you’ve ever cut into a fresh orange and suddenly felt a bit more energetic – or if you’ve breathed in the scent of lavender from your soap or lotion and felt a sense of calm – you already know the effects of aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy can be used during massage, while bathing, in compresses, as part of a hair and skin care regimen, as steam inhalations and in the form of vaporization. And it’s easy – when we enjoy a pleasant aroma, we breathe deeper and slower without consciously realizing it.
Older adults who commonly suffer from pain and stiffness as a result of arthritis may find some relief by way of rosemary and lavender, both anti-inflammatory essential oils. For less mobile adults, the essential oil of lemon can relieve some problems associated with poor blood circulation.
Those living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia can easily become distressed due to their limited attention spans and generalized anxiety. Rosemary, peppermint and basil serve as mental stimulants to improve concentration and alleviate cognitive strain. However, please note these suggestions should not replace medical treatment. They are intended to be used as a complementary therapy only.
Introducing essential oils to physical activities can invigorate participants and promote engagement. By diffusing certain oils in timed concentrations, you can enhance the warm-up, peak and cool-down phases of a bout of physical exercise. For instance, citrus oil may be used during the warm-up and peak stages to energize while lavender can help calm and relax during cool downs.
On an artistic note, diffusing oils during a painting class can help participants create a work of art inspired by the feelings or emotions evoked through their sense of smell. Aromas can activate the mind in fascinating ways, sparking memories and opening up wonderful conversations that help people share and connect. As an engagement professional, this is my goal for every program we create!
Store-bought (or homemade) aromatherapy products are generally inexpensive and include scented clays, solid natural perfumes and lip balms, linen spritzers, scented sachets or herbal packs, and massage oils. For residents who love to volunteer and give back to their local communities, such items make great gifts for children in local hospitals, people in nursing homes and those who are less fortunate.
With so many ways to use essential oils, I invite you to make every day a sense-ation. Happy sniffing!