Aromatherapy 'may alleviate dementia'

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Aromatherapy, the application of sweet-smelling oils, has been found to alleviate the symptoms of dementia in elderly people.

Aromatherapy, the application of sweet-smelling oils, has been found to alleviate the symptoms of dementia in elderly people.

In place of the cocktail of sedatives often prescribed to pensioners whose behaviour is aggressive or unpredictable, researchers have found that lemon balm and lavender oil achieve the same effect without the side-effects.

The use of bright light from a specially constructed box – the standard treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, the depressive illness associated with the winter months – is also beneficial for people with dementia, the doctors say.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Alistair Burns, a professor of old-age psychiatry at Manchester University, and his colleagues saidthe psychoactive drugs typically given to old people make them sleepy, unsteady on their feet and prone to falling, and may even accelerate cognitive decline.

Three trials of aromatherapy in the last year have shown "significant beneficial effect" with no side-effects, they reported.Sitting patients in front of a light box emitting up to 10,000 lux in the morning or evening also reduced sleep disturbance and helped reduce restlessness, according to three trials in the last three years.

Aromatherapy has a long history and is the fastest growing of all complementary treatments but there is little hard evidence that it works. Together with bright light treatment, it seems to be safe and effective and "may have an important role in managing behavioural problems in people with dementia," the authors write.

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