Aromatherapy, massage and dementia

There is currently limited evidence to suggest that aromatherapy and massage could be beneficial for people with dementia. 

Aromatherapy and massage are two alternative therapies that have been claimed to benefit people with dementia. 

A limited number of studies have found improvements in cognition and mood following aromatherapy and massage therapies.

However, a greater number of more rigorous clinical trials are needed before we can make valid conclusions.

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What is aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is based on the theory that essential oils, derived from plants, have beneficial properties.

The oils are concentrated and it is important to use them according to instructions, for example diluting them before applying to the skin.

Many types of aromatherapy can be used at home.

The oils may be:

•    applied directly to the skin, often accompanied by massage
•    heated in an oil burner to produce a pleasant aroma
•    added to a bath

Can aromatherapy prevent or treat dementia and its symptoms?

There is some evidence that aromatherapy may be effective in helping people with dementia to relax, and that certain oils may have the potential to improve cognition in people with Alzheimer's disease.

Research has specifically highlighted the potential benefits of the use of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) to improve cognition and mood in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, and lavender oil to reduce occurrences of aggressive behaviour in dementia.

However, there is currently not enough good quality evidence to conclude whether or not aromatherapy is beneficial.


What do we mean by massage?

Massage involves hands-on manipulation of the body's soft tissue by a practitioner. There are many types of massage and different people may enjoy different types (for example, hand or head). It is often used alongside aromatherapy.

Can massages prevent or treat dementia and its symptoms?

There is a small amount of evidence that massages can help manage symptoms associated with dementia, such as anxiety, agitation and depression. Although massage therapies show promise, so far studies have not been rigorous enough to provide solid evidence. Further research, with a greater number of participants, is required.

What treatments exist for people with dementia?

Find out more about the different treatments that can be used for dementia.

Find out more