Over the past decade, the use of alternative therapies has become more popular to promote contentment in individuals experiencing depression, boredom and anxiety. Research supports that aromatherapy can be a safe and effective intervention to reduce agitation and related behavioral problems, particularly in those with dementia.

When Wishek Living Center in Wishek, ND, received a letter from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) indicating the facility’s usage of psychotropic medications was too high, the decision was made to investigate alternative therapies. Aromatherapy was researched and selected to pursue as an intervention for residents who exhibited aggressive and restless behaviors as a result of depression, boredom and anxiety, particularly in residents with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We heard through one of our resident’s family members that there was an aromatherapist in Minnesota. I called her and found out that she offered a formal training program to healthcare facilities,” said Cindy Gall, QA Staff Lead. Cindy followed up with facilities that had received the training and received positive feedback from those that have implemented essential oils as an intervention with their residents.

“Our administrator and director of nursing supported our efforts to try this intervention and paid to bring in the speaker as well as purchase the necessary supplies. They encourage us to try new things to improve the quality of life for our residents.” stated Gall. “There was a lot of skepticism from staff, but we moved forward with training all our nurses and CMA staff and began trialing this new therapy with two of our dementia patients.”

Behavior tracking results from this small test of change yielded the results Gall was hoping to see. In both of the residents in the trial, episodes of wandering and restlessness during the night, being resistive to care and striking out at staff were reduced by 50 percent or more. “We attained our goal of observing an improvement in contentment in our residents, which equates to an improvement in their quality of life.” said Gall.

Wishek Living Center has expanded aromatherapy facility-wide and has observed its effectiveness. This broad implementation has eliminated the use of PRN psychotropic medications. Ongoing education to staff, residents and family members will sustain progress and lead to a broader understanding of its benefits.

Gall recommends beginning small and consulting with a certified aromatherapist to implement one or two oils on one wing prior to implementing facility-wide. She said, “Aromatherapy can, in some cases, be used in place of medications to reduce anxiety and pain and can help our residents get more restful sleep. Witnessing these positive effects in our residents is encouraging.”

Learn More About Aromatherapy
The Alliance of International Aromatherapists and the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy websites provide lists of approved aromatherapy schools. Aromatherapy publications include the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal, Aromatherapy Today, the International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy, and the International Journal of Professional Holistic Aromatherapy. Additional information about aromatherapy is available at AromaWeb.com.