Common Scents and Their Powerful Therapies

Sandy McGurran with patient Mavis

“The power of aromatherapy is impressive, and the cost is minimal,” says Sandy Mcgurran, social worker, shown here with patient Mavis.

We’re entering the season of enticing smells: Mom’s sage dressing, pumpkin pie, hot chocolate. The holiday season proves that scents can be powerful triggers of emotion, memory and mood.

That’s one reason why Fairview Home Care and Hospice uses aromatherapy in its Integrative Therapies program.

More than 350 home care and hospice visiting clinicians have been trained on using aromatherapy.

An internal survey shows 83 percent of patients who tried lavender inhalation felt reduced anxiety afterward, while 94 percent of patients who sniffed peppermint oil reported reduced nausea and 69 percent experienced a decrease in pain with lavender and/or peppermint oils.

“The power of these essential oils is impressive, and the cost is minimal,” says Sandy Mcgurran, social worker and integrative therapies educator.

“Many of my patients have shared with me that they experienced immediate relief of anxiety and nausea following brief inhalation of lavender or peppermint oil.”

Help from Fairview Foundation

In 2012, Home Care and Hospice received a $5,000, three-year grant from Fairview Foundation’s Greatest Needs fund to purchase aromatherapy supplies, like oils and inhalation cups.

All Home Care and Hospice patient care staff are equipped with a one bottle each of lavender and peppermint essential oils, cotton balls to pour the oil onto and sealable cups to let patients enjoy aromatherapy for up to two weeks.

Other sites around Fairview use aromatherapy, too, including University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital and some Ebenezer assisted-living facilities.

Not cures, but therapies

Americans are learning that prescriptions aren’t the only ways to ease pain, control nausea or boost your mood: In 2007, Americans spent $33.9 billion out-of-pocket on complementary and alternative medicines, such as aromatherapy and acupuncture.

“We’re very careful to say that essential oils aren’t substitutes; they’re additional therapies,” says Sue Sheppard, director of Home Care.

“Essential oils won’t cure disease, but they can help keep patients more comfortable and calm, which will encourage their bodies to work better with their doctor-prescribed treatments.”

‘The little things make a difference’

Home care patient Ann Ebner, 71, inhales peppermint oil daily to calm her nerves and decrease nausea.

“It’s not a medicine, it’s psychological, and I think it really does help,” she says. “It’s the little things that make a difference.”

She adds, “It’s good to know there are people who are trying to find ways to feel better without traditional medicine.”

Caregivers who have used aromatherapy appreciate having another tool in their toolkit to help patients manage symptoms like nausea, anxiety and pain.

“As a hospice nurse, integrated therapies have enhanced my practice,” says Niels Billund, RN.

“This has opened a door to a rich subset of ideas that spring up when I run out of traditional, medical options to manage uncontrolled symptoms of pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, fear and/or agitation.”

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