The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Essential Oils Most Helpful with Dementia

This week's guest blogger is our Alternative Therapies consultant, Regina Hucks. Her last blog was about the benefits of Touch and Massage therapies for both caregiver and patient. This blog is about the Essential Oils (EOs) most helpful for persons living with dementia (PlwD). It is a condensation of the entry on her own Alternative Therapies for Dementia Care blog. Do check it out the get the whole story and much more.

As a caregiver, YOU can change the way you respond to stress but dementia takes this ability away from PlwD. However, by incorporating Aromatherapy and Touch Therapy into their daily routine you can help them to achieve those changes. First, some suggestions:
  • Not all EOs are alike. To get the best results, I recommend using those that are marked "Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade."
  • EOs are strong. Prevent possible skin irritation or blending them with Fractionated Coconut Oil (4-5 drops to 1 drop EO) when used topically. 
  • You can apply a small amount of the same EO you use for Touch Therapy massage to the back of the neck where the brain stem is, to increase effect.
Why essential oils work:

Essential oils contant sesquiterpenes, chemical compounds that enable oil molecules to cross the blood brain barrier (BBB). The BBB is the filtering mechanism between the circulating blood and the brain. Its job is to prevent damaging substances from reaching brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid. The ability to cross this barrier is essential for the treatment of brain diseases and disorders, yet, up to 98% of small molecule pharmaceuticals cannot do so. (Pardridge; 2009). In contrast, Essential Oils with a high level of sesquiterpenes can pass through the BBB, where they can impact the brain directly by therapeutically interacting with glycine, dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitter receptors. (Wang et al., 2012; Okugawa et al., 2000)

Even those EOs that don't cross the BBB can still affect the brain through activation of the olfactory bulb. Odors and emotions are both processed in the brain's limbic system. The oils below are listed because of their beneficial impact and/or their ability to cross the BBB. However, each person will differ in their response so it is important to do a bit of research to see which ones impact your PlwD in the most positive of ways.

Best applications for essential oils:

Topical application via hand massage, (or Touch Therapy as discussed in my last article) is highly effective for both care giver and PlwD. Although massage alone is relaxing for both of you, massage with specific EOs is even more helpful. A 1998 study in Australia found that when patients in a dementia day-care facility received a 10 to 15 min hand-massage with a mix of essential oils, the patients had significantly improved feelings of well-being, alertness and sleeping patterns and significantly decreased aggression and anxiety. (Kilstoff and Chenoweth, 1998).

Aromatherapy is best performed with a misting diffuser, which breaks up the oil is into minuscule drops that are misted into the air. There are a multitude of diffusers on the market with each having its own bells or whistles. My recommendation is the GreenAir©SpaVapor. (Go to Regina's  blog to read why she prefers this type and to find out how to buy them.)


Often recommended for use by PlwD and related disorders. These high intensity oils have helpful enhancement and equalizing properties as well as other health benefits although they are not in high in sesquiterpenes:
  • Sandalwood: Helps to calm, harmonizes and balances the emotions, enhances brain function, and improves memory. (Blends well with Frankincense, Lemon, Myrrh and Ylang Ylang.)
  • Frankincense: Helps focus and improve concentration while minimizing distractions. It eases impatience, irritability and restlessness and can enhance spiritual awareness and thought. (Blends well with Clary Sage, Lemon, Sandalwood, Peppermint; can blend with any oil as an enhancer.)
Oils highest in sesquiterpenes:
  • Ginger: Improves digestion, acts as a soothing agent and reduces anxiety, helps to increase energy and appetite. (Blends well with Lemon, Rosemary and Frankincense)
  • Myrrh: Very soothing to the body. Works directly on the immune and nervous systems as an anti-inflammatory. May help to improve waning appetites. (Blends well with Frankincense, Lavender and Sandalwood)
  • Vetiver: May help to decrease depression, insomnia, extreme nervousness and stress. (Blends well with Clary Sage, Lavender, Sandalwood and Ylang Ylang)
  • Ylang Ylang: Aids in balancing the equilibrium. Helps to slow rapid breathing, alleviate frustration, balance heart function, reduce infection and eliminate shock. Has been used for centuries to reduce fatigue by stimulating the adrenal glands. Can have a calming and relaxing effect and alleviate anger. (Blends well with Lemon, Sandalwood and Vetiver)
Other oils recommended for use by PlwD:
  • Coriander: A gentle stimulant for those with low physical energy. Can also decrease stress, irritability and nervousness, provide a calming effect to those suffering from shock or fear. Regular use may slow memory impairment. Use sparingly; can be stupefying if over done. (Blends well with Cinnamon, Clary Sage, Ginger, Sandalwood and Frankincense)
  • Rosemary: Calms and relaxes. Found in multiple dementia studies to enhance the quality of memory. Combining Rosemary and Lavender in a diffuser has been shown to relax, calm, improving memory and provide extended periods of cognition. Combining Rosemary and Peppermint in a diffuser provides a more energetic and stimulating effect while improving memory and recall. (Blends well with, Peppermint, Lavender, and Frankincense)
  • Lemon: Invigorating, with strong anti-stress, anxiety and depressant properties. May help to improve memory and concentration. Recommendation: Drink 5 drops in a glass of water several times a day. A refreshing drink that aids digestion, decreases dehydration, limits fluid retention, strengthens the immune system and promote energy. (Blends well with Frankincense, Peppermint, Sandalwood and Ylang Ylang)
  • Clary Sage: Widely used to alleviate depression, insomnia, fatigue, mood swings and the muscle fatigue of Parkinson's. (Blends well with Lemon, Sandalwood and Frankincense.)
  • Lavender: calming, anti-depressant properties and is used for restful sleep. When in doubt, use Lavender. Recent studies have shown that combining Rosemary and Lavender in a diffuser will relax and calm while improving memory and provides extended periods of cognition. (Blends well with Clary Sage and Lemon.)
  • Peppermint: Known for centuries. Wide variety of uses: Improving alertness, reducing fevers, nausea and other digestive issues, muscle aches and headaches. A purifier and stimulant, it is used to improve memory and mental performance, and to decrease anger, depression, fatigue, and hysteria. (Blends well with, Rosemary, Lemon and Frankincense) CAUTION: Use sparingly when dealing with hypertension / high blood pressure. In this case, diffusing is best.

Coming up next month: Meditation: Slowing the Progression of Dementia

I wish you all a most Happy Holiday Season filled with love, joy, hope and peace.
To reach me with your questions, feedback or to find out how to purchase these oils at wholesale pricing, please click here and fill in the form.
For more in depth information about Essential Oils and the health benefits, please click here.
Regina Hucks, Alternative Therapy Consultant

For information about Lewy body disorders, read our books: A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors, lawyers or social workers. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a professional's advice.


  1. I am having mild forgetfulness. I tend to forget things in a bit. I am surprised I cannot recall anymore. I am still 51. What do you think?

  2. Consider seeing your doctor. They can test to see if it is stress related or age or actually some mild cognitive impairment showing up.