Lavender Aromatherapy Prevents Falls
in the Elderly
Families of the elderly live in fear of an accidental fall of their loved one, which often means a broken hip and the beginning of the slide downhill to death. As people age, they encounter risk factors like “physical weakness, gait and balance instability, sedating and psychotropic medications, and cognitive impairment.”1 Thus, falls are a major health problem in the elderly.
Researchers at the Tohoku University, Graduate School of Medicine in Sendai, Japan, tested the effects of lavender olfactory stimulation intervention on the incidence of falls in elderly nursing home residents.
Three nursing homes were randomly selected in northern Japan, where 145 residents over the age of 65 were tested. The residents received either a lavender patch for continuous olfactory stimulation or a placebo unscented patch.
Before we get into this Japanese study, we need to take an in-depth look at the idea of lavender as an olfactory stimulation. It is common knowledge that lavender is calming and sedating. 2, 3 The fact that it can also be a stimulant is confusing, unless you realize that lavender is an adaptogen: it adapts to what the body is most in need of and then supplies it.
Several studies demonstrate lavender’s energizing and stimulating effects. In research conducted by Yamanashi Prefectural University, also in Japan, researchers analyzed three groups during a recess from work sessions: a placebo group not exposed to aroma, a group exposed to jasmine aroma, and a group exposed to lavender aroma. Not surprisingly, it was found that concentration was lowest in the afternoon period, when afternoon drowsiness is strongest. The lavender group had significantly higher concentration levels during this drowsy time period than the control group. No effect was found for the jasmine group. The study concludes, “Although lavender is a sedative-type aroma, use during recess periods after accumulation of fatigue seems to prevent deterioration of performance in subsequent work sessions.”4
Perhaps the most important study on this surprising energizing effect of lavender was done in the Palliative Care Unit of Japan’s National Sanyo Hospital. The researchers wrote: “Fatigue is one of the most distressful symptoms experienced by patients with advanced cancer.”5 To test their hypothesis, the researchers performed an open study on 20 terminally ill patients with cancer. The patients received aromatherapy that was accompanied by a footsoak in warm water for 10 minutes that contained lavender, followed by reflexology treatment for 10 minutes that contained jojoba oil and lavender. Using the Cancer Fatigue Scale (CFS), the patients’ fatigue was evaluated before, one hour after, and four hours after treatment. Total CFS scores improved significantly after this treatment, and no adverse effects were experienced by the cancer patients.
What was most interesting was that all the patients found the treatment pleasant and energizing enough that they desired to continue the treatment, which they received an average of eight times each. The study conclusion states, “Combined modality treatment consisting of aromatherapy, footsoak, and reflexology appears to be effective for alleviating fatigue in terminally ill cancer patients.”6
Now back to the study mentioned in the beginning of this article that used lavender aromatherapy for the elderly in nursing homes. One hundred forty-five patients 65 years of age and older were either given an unscented placebo patch or a lavender-scented patch. The primary outcome measured was resident falls. The researchers also measured (at the beginning of the study and 12 months after) functional ability, cognitive function, and behavioral and psychological problems associated with dementia.
There were fewer falls in the lavender group and a lower incidence rate of falls in this group as well. The lavender group also had a significant decrease in CMAI score (Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory—the test for psychological problems associated with dementia).7
Conclusion? “Lavender olfactory stimulation may reduce falls and agitation in elderly nursing home residents; further research is necessary to confirm these findings.”8
- “Lavender Aromatherapy Reduces Falls in Elderly Nursing Home Residents,” Herb Clip, November 30, 2012.
- Sayorwan W, et al. “The effects of lavender oil inhalation on emotional states, autonomic nervous system, and brain electrical activity,” J Med Assoc Thai. 2012 Apr;95(4):598-606.
- Hongratanaworakit T. “Aroma-therapeutic effects of massage blended essential oils,” Nat Prod Commun. 2011 Aug;6(8):1199-204.
- Sakamoto R, et al. “Effectiveness of aroma on work efficiency: lavender aroma during recesses prevents deterioration of work performance,” Chem Senses. 2005 Oct;30(8):683-91.
- Kohara H, et al. “Combined modality treatment of aromatherapy, footsoak, and reflexology relieves fatigue in patients with cancer,” J Palliat Med. 2004 Dec;7(6):791-6.
- Sakamoto Y, et al. “Fall prevention using olfactory stimulation with lavender odor in elderly nursing home residents: a randomized controlled study,” J Amer Geriatr Soc. 2012 Jun;60(6):1005-11.