Essential oils to help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients

Let’s make it clear right now – no essential oil will cure Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. However, there is scientific literature confirming that specific essential oils can help manage mood and cognitive function in patients suffering from these diseases. Essential oils can not and should not replace pharmaceutical management of dementia, but using essential oils in day-to-day care management can be incorporated into the plan of care.

Lemon balm and lavender have been shown to help reduce physical non-aggressive behavior. Additionally, lemon balm has been shown to reduce social withdrawal and increase constructive activity engagement. Part of the therapeutic benefit from that study may also be that the essential oils were applied in a carrier lotion to the skin twice a day, which maintained contact with the oil more effectively. It’s also important not to discount the power of touch; healthy therapeutic touch is beneficial physically and emotionally for all age groups, regardless of health status.

Diffusing lavender for 20 minutes twice a day helped reduce agitation, especially in dementia patients aged 70 to 85. For dementia patients over age 85, the difference was noticeably less. My theory on that is that the sense of smell had reduced too much to be therapeutic for that age group, but increasing the dosage of oil in the diffuser might counteract that. Lavender oil placed on bedding also helped patients sleep better and longer.

In one study, rosemary and lemon were used in combination in the morning, along with lavender and orange in combination in the evening. That study showed an improvement in cognitive function of personal orientation. Rosemary helps you “remember who you are” and citrus oils in general uplift mood. Lavender is more sedating, so it’s a better choice to help calm dementia patients for the evening and aid sleep.

In animal studies, thuja (Tetraclinis articulata) oil inhaled by male mice helped them navigate mazes better. In worms, rose essential oil inhibited dementia-like symptoms.

What’s the best way to use essential oils on the elderly?

Because many elderly lack healthy touch and emotional connection, I think incorporating essential oils in a nut-free oil or lotion is the most beneficial. The standard dilution for elderly or children is one percent essential oil to the carrier oil, or six drops per ounce. It’s also important to use an essential oil and not “fragrance” or “perfume” which usually contain a few top notes but not the entire chemical signature of a true essential oil. Because everyone’s skin integrity and sensitivity is different, it’s important to test on a small area of skin and also consult the patient’s health care team before implementing.

Diffusing essential oils in water vapor is the easiest method of application, and can affect the most people in the shortest period of time, so this is a great idea for common areas or individual rooms. Any essential oil has the possibility of triggering allergies or asthma attacks, so knowing the health history of everyone who would be exposed to the oil is important.

If implemented with care, essential oils can be part of a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient’s plan of care to help them experience a better quality of life.

Disclosure: I also sell essential oils. You can learn more on my Doterra web page.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician at Vitalichi Acupuncture. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.



Aromatherapy as a safe and effective treatment for the management of agitation in severe dementia: the results of a double-blind, placebo controlled trial with Melissa. J Clin Psychiatry. 2002 Jul.

A randomized controlled trial of Lavender (Lavender Angustifolia) and Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis) essential oils for the treatment of agitated behavior in older people with and without dementia. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Feb.

Tetraclinic articulate essential oil mitigates cognitive deficits and brain oxidative stress in an Alzheimer’s disease amyloidosis model. Phytomedicine. 2019 March 15.

Evaluating the effects of diffused lavender in an adult day care center for patients with dementia in an effort to decrease behavioral issues: a pilot study. J Drug Assess. 2017 Jan 23.

Effects of Inhalation Aromatherapy on Symptoms of Sleep Disturbance in the Elderly with Dementia. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017.

Rose Essential Oil Delayed Alzheimer’s Disease-Like Symptoms by SKN-1 Pathway in C. elegans. J Agric Food Chem. 2017 Oct.

Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Psychogeriatrics, 2009 Dec.

The psycopharmacology of European herbs with cognition-enhancing properties. Curr Pharm Des. 2006.

Tai chi can tip the scales of balance back in your favor

Exercise is the second pillar in the five pillars of health in Chinese medicine. The fact that it ranks second out of five (diet, exercise, bodywork, herbal medicine and acupuncture) underscores the importance of continued movement for continued function. The old saying “if you don’t used it, you lose it” applies not only to mind, but body, too.

In Chinese medicine, the preferred forms of exercise are slow, sustained efforts that are gentle on the joints. Tai chi, a softer form of martial arts, is a broad term for a specific series of exercises that is often described as moving meditation. The slow, gentle movements make it an appropriate form of exercise for just about anyone, especially for seniors.

There have been many scientific studies about the efficacy of tai chi for various conditions; here are just a few highlights:

• A study published in 2012 in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded “Tai chi training appears to reduce balance impairments in patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease, with additional benefits of improved functional capacity and reduced falls. (Funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.)” (1)

• A group of 256 previously inactive adults, ages 70 to 92, were assigned to either a stretching routine or tai chi. After six months of exercise, the tai chi group had 38 falls verses 73 in the stretching group, with only 7 percent leading to injury verses 18 percent in the stretching group.

According to the study published in 2005, “the risk for multiple falls in the tai chi group was 55 percent lower than that of the stretching control group. …A three-times-per-week, 6-month tai chi program is effective in decreasing the number of falls, the risk for falling and the fear of falling, and it improves functional balance and physical performance in physically inactive persons, aged 70 years or older.” (2)

• In a study published in 2014, patients with multiple sclerosis had measurable improvements in balance, coordination, life satisfaction and mood compared to the control group of treatment as usual after six months of tai chi. While fatigue worsened in the control group during that time, the tai chi group had a fairly stable fatigue level. Their fatigue did not improve, but it did not worsen like the control group. (3)

• A 2004 study of patients with stable congestive heart failure found improvements in quality of life, distance walked, decreased serum B-type natriuretic peptide levels and a possible improvement in peak oxygen uptake with the addition of a tai chi exercise program to standard care. (4)

• A 2009 study evaluated short form tai chi for the following criteria: “Dynamic standing balance evaluated by the center of gravity (COG) excursion during self-initiated body leaning in 4 directions, standing equilibrium evaluated in sensory challenged conditions and functional mobility assessed by Timed-up-and-go score.” The results showed that tai chi improved everything, including vestibular integration, but not the timed-up-and-go score. (5)

• A 2008 study of 15 asthmatic children found that tai chi can improve pulmonary function in the short term, and it deserved longer, follow-up studies. (6)

• Female senior cancer survivors who were taught tai chi verses a control group who received health education had significantly lower systolic blood pressure and cortisol (stress) levels. (7)

The jury is still out on some alleged benefits
Can tai chi affect blood sugar? There are conflicting studies about that. A 2009 study states that 31 test subjects who completed a tai chi exercise program had improvements in fasting glucose, quality of life and performed more self care activities than the control group. (8)

Another study reports the improvements on insulin resistance and HbA(1c) were related to losing fat, not the specific tai chi exercise, but suggests a more intense form of tai chi that burns more calories might be effective for blood sugar control. (9)

An overall look at Pub Med articles will reveal conflicting studies on cardiovascular effects, too, but most studies trend in the direction that tai chi improves balance as well as reduces risk factors for chronic disease.

How do I get started?
Personal instruction is always the best method to learn a new form of exercise, especially if you anticipate needing adjustments for your current ability level. Check with your local gym or community calendar for classes. There are plenty of DVDs and YouTube videos for home practice, too.

Check in with your health care team before you get started, and get ready to bring balance back to body, mind and spirit.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.