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Alzheimer's Disease and Aromatherapy (Therapy)

Read more about Aromatherapy (Therapy).


Aromatherapy is used to alleviate the agitation seen in Alzheimer's patients. Lavender oil and Lemon Balm have been studied in clinical studies. As is true in Aromatherapy, these essential oils's fragrance can be transmitted via inhalation or through application on the skin.

Effect of Aromatherapy (Therapy) on Alzheimer's Disease

Lavender oil used purely as aromatherapy (treatment involving inhaling essential oils) has been advocated for reducing agitation in people with dementia 52 ; however, people with dementia tend to lose their sense of smell, making this approach seem somewhat unlikely to work.69

Topical use of essential oil of the herb lemon balm has also shown promise for reducing agitation in people with Alzheimer's disease51 ; the researchers who tested it considered their method aromatherapy because the fragrance wafts up from the skin, but essential oils are also absorbed through the skin and this mechanism of action seems more plausible. Oral use of lemon balm extract has also shown promise.70

Side Effects and Warnings

#Safety Issues

Essential oils can be toxic when taken internally, producing unpleasant and even fatal effects. Toxicity studies have not been performed for many essential oil products, and maximum safe dosages remain unknown. ^[1] Infants, children, seniors, and people with severe illnesses should not use essential oils internally except under the supervision of a physician; healthy adults should only use well established products (such as peppermint oil) for which safe dosages have been determined.

Inhaled or topical use of essential oils is much safer than oral use. However, allergic reactions to inhaled or topical plant fragrances are not uncommon. ^[2] Furthermore, when applied to the skin, some essential oils might also promote sunburning (photosensitization), raise the risk of skin cancer, or be absorbed sufficiently to cause toxic effects. ^[3] In addition, one report suggests that a combination of lavender oil and tea tree oil applied topically caused gynecomastia (breast enlargement) in three young boys. ^[5]


  1. Ballard CG, O'Brien JT, Reichelt K, et al. 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;63:553-558.
  1. Holmes C, Hopkins V, Hensford C, et al. Lavender oil as a treatment for agitated behaviour in severe dementia: a placebo controlled study. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2002;17:305-308.
  1. Snow LA, Hovanec L, Brandt J. A Controlled trial of aromatherapy for agitation in nursing home patients with dementia. J Altern Complement Med. 2004;10:431-437.
  1. Akhondzadeh S, Noroozian M, Mohammadi M, et al. Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled trial. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2003;74:863-866.