Aromatherapy as a Complimentary Therapy
In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that between 65% and 80% of the world's population relied on alternative medicine as their primary health care source. More than 40 percent of Americans are using Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) to maintain their health or to treat physical and psychological health conditions.
Aromatherapy within the domain of CAM can be applied to
Aromatherapy can be used during massage, as steam inhalations, in compresses and in other ways to balance the body and mind. Researches have revealed that human touch has wide-ranging physical and emotional benefits for people of all age groups.
Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils distilled from the leaves, fruits, seeds and flowers of various plants.
Some essential oils induce uplifting or invigorating effects, while others are more calming. The sense of smell has a powerful effect on the body via the olfactory system to trigger memories as well as affect the body’s nervous system.
Common essential oils used in aromatherapy and their health benefits include:
- Bergamot： calms mood, fights depression and fatigue.
- Chamomile： soothing with anti-inflammation properties and used for chronic pain.
- Lavender： relieve stress, reduce inflammation, wound healing and lower blood pressure.
- Eucalyptus： helps with migraines, fevers, respiratory issues, and bacterial infections.
- Ginger： used for nausea/vomiting, constipation.
- Lemon： improve body circulation and varicose vein.
- Peppermint： enhance mental alertness and boost energy.
- Rosemary： improve memory and cognition.
Please note these suggestions should not replace medical treatment. They are intended to be used as a complementary therapy.
Seniors and cancer patients can benefit from aromatherapy in many ways, including:
- Reduced anxiety and depression
A blend of frankincense and grapefruit were used to alleviate symptoms of depression and sun-downing as well as nonverbal behavior of yelling, cursing, biting, scratching, kicking and crying indicating discomfort or stress.
- Improved sleep
Lavender and bergamot essential oils have been used in the elderly care settings to assist in pain management and to reduce insomnia.
- Improved digestion (reduced constipation)
A 2011 study in Hong Kong showed that aromatherapy massage seem to help relief of constipation in patients with advanced cancer.
- Reduced pain levels
Elderly 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.
- Reduced difficult behaviors caused by anxiety for those suffering from Dementia
Rosemary, peppermint and basil serve as mental stimulants to improve concentration and alleviate cognitive strain.
Lavender and lemon were found to decrease the instance of behavior problems and physical agitation. They also improved communication and overall functionality.
- Improved quality of life in people with cancer or other severe illness
Aromatherapy is often used in conjunction with standard treatments to manage symptoms like pain, anxiety and fatigue. Because of the positive effect it has on emotional well-being, it can be a key part of managing feelings of hopelessness or despair.
Aromatherapy in Dementia
Dementia is a progressive disease of the brain. There is decline in cognitive and intellectual function such as memory, comprehension, learning capacity, as well as language and judgment. Patients gradually deteriorate with impaired functioning in daily activities, with emotional and behavioral problems, easily get lost, cannot recognize relatives and may become totally dependent.
Japan, having the highest life expectancy in the world, in addition to using medications, also makes use of various ‘non‐pharmacological’ approaches in the treatment of senile dementia.
A study was done on the curative effects of aromatherapy in dementia in 28 elderly people. Aromatherapy consisted of rosemary and lemon essential oils in the morning, and lavender and orange in the evening were used and improvement in cognitive function was found on dementia patients. The study also noted that there were no side-effects associated with the use of aromatherapy and using pure aromas is safe. (D Jimbo - 2009)
Other studies suggest that aromatherapy can reduce agitation, anxiety, and insomnia in people suffering from dementia (Bowles, Cheras, Stevens, and Myers, 2005).
A measurable sedative effect was demonstrated through the use of aromatherapy massage in a controlled trial of twenty-one hospitalized people suffering from dementia (Smallwood, Brown, Coulter, Irvine, and Copland, 2001).
A trial involving nine residents showed consistent improvements in overall wakefulness during the day and increased percentages of time asleep at night after the placement of one drop of lavender oil on each person's pillow at night. (Hudson, 1996)
Why gentle touch is important to good health
- Touch is the first sense we acquire. Touching and being touched in ways that help us to feel appreciated and cared for
- Parents soothe and nurture children by stroking, cuddling and hugging them
- Gentle and soothing touch from someone we trusted is an effective way to let go of our daily tension. When we hurt ourselves we rub the area to make it better and ease the pain. We comfort those who are upset with a hug and a cuddle.
- By means of touch, we can convey love, warmth, reassurance and concern for those we are seeking to help
Extensive research by the University of Miami's Touch Research Institute has revealed that human touch has wide-ranging physical and emotional benefits for people of all age groups. In the Institute's experiments,
- Touch lessened pain, improved pulmonary function, increased growth in infants, lowered blood glucose and improved immune function.
- Newborns that are touched gain weight faster and have superior mental and motor skill development
- In the earliest stages of a child's life, touch is a critical part of the establishment of a bond between parent and child.
Aromatherapy massage reducing anxiety and depression in people with cancer
In 2007, a UK study tested whether aromatherapy massage could reduce anxiety and depression in people with advanced cancer. 280 people with anxiety or depression took part. Half of them had aromatherapy massage on top of their usual supportive care.
The researchers found that those who had aromatherapy massage were less anxious or depressed for up to 2 to 6 weeks after the massage. There was no difference at 10 weeks.
A US study in 2004 looked at the use of massage and aromatherapy in 42 people with advanced cancer. Those who had aromatherapy massages slept better and had less depression than those who didn't. Massage of arms, hands, feet, legs can help many patients with various ‘aches’ and pains.
Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage
Skilled massage relaxes and revitalizes an ailing or tired body. Massage is also a way of communicating warmth, reassurance and a sense of self worth.
- Improve circulation of blood and lymph fluids to increase the release of toxins which in turn helps decrease pain and reduce swelling and bruising
- Relieve muscle tiredness and soothe muscle tension and spasms, accelerate healing of injured joints and muscles
- Help indigestion, constipation and other minor discomfort of the body
- Relieve emotional stress and reduce anxiety levels
- Establish positive feelings of touch and intimacy and help to relieve depression and loneliness
Contraindications to Massage
- Acute inflammation (i.e., if the affected area is diagnosed by doctor to be acutely inflamed or there is redness, heat, pain or swelling, medical personnel should be consulted first.)
- After receiving life-saving treatment (intensive care) – consult with medical practitioner and family
- A wound or fracture that has not yet healed or a recent joint dislocation
- Severe osteoporosis
- Areas of undiagnosed pain (other than muscular aches and pains)
- Contagious skin diseases or severe skin problems (e.g. psoriasis)
- Acute deep vein thrombosis
- High fever
- Unstable heart disease or hypertension
- Massaging the abdominal area is not advisable during pregnancy, menstruation or when feeling too full or nauseous.