Introducing Aromatherapy In Your Senior Living Program: Getting Started

Harold, a long-time resident of a Texas senior living community, struggled with severe anxiety and depression. In an effort to help stabilize Harold’s mood swings, his care team introduced him to aromatherapy. This complementary therapy approach uses essential oils from plants to address health challenges and support overall wellness.

Staff closely monitored Harold’s self-reported changes in mood. Over one month of aromatherapy treatment, his mood improved 65 percent.

“Harold’s rapid progress illustrates how effective aromatherapy can be in supporting mood disorders,” says Callie Whitwell, Chief Operating Officer, and founding partner of Lifetime Wellness.

A leading provider of person-centered wellness, life enrichment, and recreational programs, Lifetime Wellness offers the AromaWorks program to senior care communities that deliver independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory care services. The company has extensive training and experience in essential oils, providing basic and comprehensive programs for senior caregivers and also offering wholesale pricing to operators of senior living.

Gauging the benefits

Aromatherapy is a powerful way to provide comfort and healing – and reawaken pleasant memories,” says Toby Palmer, a product marketing and manufacturing consultant and owner of Sacred Natural Products. Palmer serves as an advisor to Lifetime Wellness in developing its aromatherapy blends.

“Although plant medicine has been around for thousands of years, only in the last two decades have health care providers in the mainstream taken notice. Increasingly, we’re seeing the use of natural products, especially with the aging population, to reduce stress, induce relaxation, and enhance quality of life.”

The Lifetime Wellness AromaWorks program offers six unique blends of pure essential aromatherapy oils. Palmer helped the company develop its offerings using 100% natural, therapeutic-grade oils to support overall wellness.

“We’ve found that blends create synergies in essential oils and magnify their positive effects,” Palmer says. “Different blends offer different benefits. For example, a blend with the primary ingredients of sweet orange, coriander, cedarwood, lime, and Balsam of Peru can help ease negative emotions. Other blends provide support for a range of needs, from sparking feelings of energy and invigoration to strengthening the immune system, promoting restful sleep, and increasing appetite.”

The key to the program’s success is using essential oil blends that are created with the elderly in mind. “Our topical roll-ons are prediluted so that caregivers can be assured of safety when applying them to older adults,” Palmer says. “We use fractionated coconut oil to reduce any risk of severe skin reaction.” Lifetime Wellness also offers undiluted essential oil blends for use in an ultrasonic diffuser or fan diffuser.

“These are super products that are safe, effective, and easy to administer. When best practices are followed, side effects are rare.”

Guiding staff  

Senior living communities that have launched an aromatherapy program cite management and staff buy-in as the linchpin for program success. Along with providing supplies and resources, Lifetime Wellness trains health care and wellness staff in using essential oils safely and offers guidance for documenting processes and measuring results. Monthly aromatherapy roundtable trainings are delivered virtually on such topics as introduction to aromatherapy, routes of application, documentation of best practices, guidelines for blending, and safe use and maintenance of aromatherapy equipment. Also, monthly in-service programs are provided for further staff support. Once staff are trained, the aromatherapy program is easy to integrate into resident care.

“Residents and families also need to be educated in how the aromatherapy oils work,” Whitwell says.  “We guide staff in how to engage residents and their loved ones in the program – and to provide well-informed answers to any questions or concerns.”

Getting started

For communities considering an aromatherapy program, Whitwell and Palmer offer the following questions as a starting point:

  • What are your goals for launching an aromatherapy program? For example, are you seeking to reduce the use of psychotropic, anxiety and pain medications? Manage difficult behaviors? Support those with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias?
  • Who in your community needs to be on board with the program?
  • How much will the program cost, and what will the cost cover?
  • How will you establish and disseminate safety protocols?
  • Who will be in charge of the program, and who will champion it, day-to-day?

Lifetime Wellness offers a basic, cost-effective program to introduce the benefits of aromatherapy oils in senior living. It includes aromatherapy equipment, essential oils, monthly roundtable trainings and in-services, and marketing collateral. A comprehensive program builds on the introductory offering by providing in-person training with facility champions, along with program management and reporting tools.

“We encourage providers who are considering trying aromatherapy for their residents to give us a call,” Whitwell says. “We can help you get started with a simple trial – and grow the program as your needs evolve.”

Whitwell and Palmer see complementary therapy as a star player in the future of health care.  “Evidence-based aromatherapy continues to gain acceptance as a legitimate, customizable, and affordable pathway to health and wellness,” Palmer says. “On the road ahead, we believe it will be an essential offering for senior care providers who seek to deliver the best of care.”