The Cognitive Benefits of Aromatherapy
Unlocking Cognitive Potential: Aromatherapy's Surprising Benefits for Older Adults - By Brynn Crabb
Reading time: 4 minutes
Aromatherapy, a form of alternative medicine, has been in practice for thousands of years. It’s a natural therapy that uses plant extracts, and their essential oils to promote physical, emotional, and cognitive well-being. Aromatherapy has been known to help combat stress, anxiety, depression, and promote relaxation, but its cognitive benefits for older adults have been less well known. However, recent research suggests that aromatherapy can have positive effects on cognitive function in older adults.
As we age, we’re told that cognitive decline is a natural part of the aging process. This cognitive decline can range from minor lapses in memory to more severe forms of cognitive impairment, like dementia or Alzheimer’s. Aromatherapy offers a natural and safe way to improve a healthy brain for older adults.
Several essential oils, such as rosemary, lavender, peppermint, and lemon, have been shown to boost cognitive function, enhance memory, and promote mental clarity. Rosemary, for instance, has been found to increase alertness, mental clarity, and recall individuals suffering from age-related cognitive impairment. It’s also believed to enhance long-term memory and improve speed and accuracy of cognitive performance.
Lavender is another powerful essential oil that can benefit cognitive function. It has calming and relaxing effects on the mind and body and reduces stress-related hormones that cause anxiety and interrupt cognitive function. Studies have found that inhaling lavender vapor can improve short term memory and cognitive impairment in older adults with dementia.
Another powerful essential oil is peppermint. It has a stimulating effect on the brain, increasing alertness and mental sharpens. Peppermint aromatherapy has been shown to enhance immediate general attention, long term memory retrieval, and cognitive performance.
Lemon essential oil has also been shown in studies to aide in boosting mental health and mood. It’s believed to enhance memory, retention, alertness, and mental clarity. Lemon aromatherapy can help aging adults remain mentally active and maintain a healthy brain.
Sage essential oil has also been shown to enhance cognitive performance, increase alertness and improve immediate recall and concentration. Sage essential oils can help older adults improve their memory and focus, allowing them to better navigate their lives.
A study was conducted involving 39 nursing home residents that struggled with daytime sleepiness, declined mood, and cognitive dysfunction. Over the course of a few weeks, some of the residents were given a lemon-rosemary combination to inhale in the mornings, and a lavender oil to inhale in the evenings. Compared to the control group, there was a significant improvement in cognitive function and decrease in daytime sleepiness in those who participated in aromatherapy.
One of the most significant advantages of aromatherapy is that the essential oils are natural, and their benefits have been studies and documented. They can be used independently or as a compliment to other mental health therapies such as brain exercises, meditation, and cognitive-behavioral therapies.
Aydın Yıldırım, T., & Kitiş, Y. (2020). The Effect of Aromatherapy Application on Cognitive Functions and Daytime Sleepiness in Older Adults Living in a Nursing Home. Holistic nursing practice, 34(2), 83–90. https://doi.org/10.1097/HNP.0000000000000371
Ke, M.-H., Hsieh, K.-T., & Hsieh, W.-Y. (2022). Effects of Aromatherapy on the Physical and Mental Health and Pressure of the Middle-Aged and Elderly in the Community. Applied Sciences, 12(10), 4823. https://doi.org/10.3390/app12104823
Laguipo, Angela. (2021, February 18). Aromatherapy for Dementia. News-Medical. Retrieved on June 18, 2023 from https://www.news-medical.net/health/Aromatherapy-for-Dementia.aspx.