Alternative Therapy for the Alzheimer’s Resident

Below are a few short paragraphs from the Community Education, LLC course titled Holistic Approach to Dementia Care. This course from a few years ago was well received by many providers interested in alternative treatments for Alzheimer’s residents.


Aromatherapy can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aroma essences from plants to balance, harmonize, and promote the health of the body, mind, and spirit. It is an art and science which seeks to explore the physiological, psychological, and spiritual realm of the individual’s response to aromatic extracts as well as to observe and enhance the individual’s innate healing process. As in holistic medicine, aromatherapy is both a preventive approach as well as an active treatment during acute and chronic stages of illness or disease.

Some argue aromatherapy and massage could provide a useful addition to psychological therapeutic interventions with clients suffering from dementia, according to research published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology.

In one study the effects of aromatherapy and massage on disturbed behavior in four individuals with severe dementia were evaluated using a single-case research design. Each participant received 10 treatment sessions of aromatherapy, aromatherapy and massage combined, and massage alone. The effects on each individual’s behavior in the hour following treatment were assessed against 10 ‘no treatment’ control sessions. Reliable individualized disturbed behavior scales were designed. The effects of the treatments were mixed.

The opinion of the staff providing treatment was that all participants benefited. On close scrutiny, only one of the participants benefited from the aromatherapy and massage to a degree that reached statistical significance. However, in two of the cases, aromatherapy and massage led to an increase in agitated behavior.

Some guidelines for using aromatherapy are:

a) Use essential oils and scents from a reliable source.

b) Always have the consent of the resident.

c) Always obtain MD approval before applying anything on the resident.

Music Therapy

Music transcends language. It can serve many purposes, including being calming and motivating. Some experts state that music can restore a deep understanding and a sense of well-being for a previous interval of time. The memory of the previous interaction may have faded from the resident’s mind, but the positive affect elicited by it remains and can be brought out through music.

  • Identify music that’s familiar and enjoyable to your residents. Use live music, tapes, or CDs; radio programs interrupted by too many commercials can cause confusion.
  • Use music to create the mood that will most benefit your residents.
  • Link music with other reminiscence activities; use questions or photographs to help stir memories.
  • Encourage movement (clapping, dancing) to add to the enjoyment.
  • Avoid sensory overload; eliminate competing noises by shutting windows and doors and by turning off the television.

For more on these subjects, register for one of our new dementia courses scheduled for 2008, including the upcoming Dementia Care Intensive. We look forward to seeing you at class and at our conferences, and thank you for allowing us to serve your educational needs.

  • Dementia Care Intensive 2008 – March 14, 2008 (Bay area location coming soon)
  • Dementia Care: Mind, Body, and Spirit – Scheduled in multiple locations statewide.

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