Research results: Aromatherapy as an effective treatment for agitation in severe dementia (English)

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Aromatherapy as a Safe and Effective Treatment for the Management of Agitation in Severe Dementia.

The Results of a Double Blind, Placebo Controlled Trial


Running Title: Aromatherapy for Agitation in Dementia

  • Professor Clive G Ballard* MRCPsych MD, Professor John T O'Brien MRCPsych
  • DM, Ms Katharina Reichelt MSc, Professor Elaine K Perry PhD
  • Wolfson Research Centre
  • Newcastle General Hospital
  • Westgate Rd
  • Newcastle upon Tyne
  • NE4 6BE
  • Telephone: 0191 256 3327
  • e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Background: Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms in Dementia (BPSD) are frequent and a major management problem, especially for patients with severe cognitive impairment. Preliminary reports have indicated positive effects of aromatherapy using select essential oils, but there are no adequately powered placebo controlled trials . We conducted a placebo controlled trial to determine the value of aromatherapy with essential oil (melissa) for agitation in people with severe dementia.




Seventy two people with clinically significant agitation in the context of severe dementia, residing in NHS care facilities, were randomized to aromatherapy with Melissa (lemon balm) essential oil or placebo (sunflower oil). Changes in clinically significant agitation (Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory -CMAI) and quality of life indices (% social withdrawal and % constructive activities measured with Dementia Care Mapping) were compared between the 2 groups over a 4 week period of treatment.


Seventy-one patients completed the trial. No significant side effects were observed. Sixty percent of the active treatment group and 14% of the placebo treated group experienced a 30% reduction of CMAI score, with an overall improvement in agitation of 35% in patients receiving melissa essential oil and 11% in those treated with placebo (Mann-Whitney U test -MWU - Z=4.1, p<0.0001). Quality of life indices also improved significantly more in people receiving essential balm oil (% social withdrawal MWU Z=2.6 p=0.005, %constructive activities MWU Z 3.5 p=0.001).


Aromatherapy with essential balm oil is a safe treatment which appears to be efficacious for the treatment of clinically significant agitation in people with severe dementia, with additional benefits for key quality of life parameters.

Key words:

Aromatherapy Agitation Dementia Quality of life


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