Several hundred years ago the world stank so bad that people began to carry tussie-mussies to endure. A tussie-mussie is a bouquet with bouquet😊. A small vase or bouquet which is clipped to your clothing or hand-held to breathe through the stench.1 Victorian women were known to place them in their “décolletage”. A pocketful of posies. Nesting sweetly nearby for a quick deep breath. Early American wives would lay fresh herbs down on the dirt floors to combat the smells of unwashed bodies walking through their homes.
Life with dementia can stink. Behaviors we have never encountered are suddenly the norm. We fall into bed exhausted from managing things we have never experienced before. Much like odors, things can be fine and then out of the blue . . .
Good news—we can create our own dementia tussie-mussie. Research shows aromatherapy can be beneficial in symptom management including anxiety, depression and agitation with dementia.2 Even though a large portion of individuals living with dementia have anosmia, the partial or total loss of the sense of smell. Anosmia is a common early symptom of a variety of dementias.3 Because aroma’s impact is more than psychological, it is also physiological. Aromas are processed by the olfactory and the trigeminal nerve which usually stays intact.
Whether it is the known impact of the smell of cinnamon buns baking, the scent of fresh baked cookies or your favorite aftershave—we can improve our experience with aromas. The adverse impact is equally true. Do you have a smell which makes you afraid? Perhaps the smell of wood smoke because of a tragic incident in the past. A smell that makes you think of your childhood? Aromas are nostalgic. Think of the smell of lilacs - what memories does it recall?
In a study of medical aromatherapy, clinical use of essential oils’ positive impact on dementia included decreased agitation, improved night-time sleep, and even balance.4 The study showed medically prescribed and titrated combinations included:
- Morning combination of rosemary and lemon for alertness
- Evening combination of lavender and orange for sleep
- Combination of lavender and lemon balm oil for agitation
- Lavender base for balance and decreased falls
This integrative therapy approach must be overseen by a qualified clinician. Caution is advised in the use of essential oils for aromatherapy due to flammability, elder and child safety in regards to dermatitis, phototoxicity, oral toxicity, and eye safety.
Whether you add a new air freshener to your routine, the smell of baked goods or go to a medical aromatherapist, you can make life with dementia more pleasant. One breath at a time.
2Ebihara T, Yamasaki M, Kozaki K, Ebihara S. Medical aromatherapy in geriatric syndrome. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 31. doi: 10.1111/ggi.14157. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33789361.
4Farrar, A. J., & Farrar, F. C. (2020). Clinical Aromatherapy. The Nursing clinics of North America, 55(4), 489–504. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cnur.2020.06.015
Cate McCarty, PhD, ADC has been collaborating with Arden Courts in a variety of roles since the late 90’s. Her background in nursing, activities and admissions has given her a passionate commitment to quality of life for the individual and family with dementia.