Submitted by Lutheran Hillside Villages
Spring is here! And for those of us who love rolling up our sleeves out in the garden, there’s no better time of year. Ask any gardener — there’s just something about the feel of the soil, the sound of wind in the leaves, and the smell of a new year’s crop coming in.
It’s that smell that might have the most profound impact on us, though. From clinical researchers to practitioners of alternative medicines, a wide swath of observers tout the healing and therapeutic powers of different plant aromas, which can be especially useful for those of us with aging parents.
Circulatory health, stress relief, skin regeneration, memory improvement… the list of benefits attributed to carefully chosen smells goes on and on. They’re the basis behind the tradition of aromatherapy, which involves extracting essential oils from various plants and applying them in a variety of everyday uses like massage. While aromatherapy has been around since at least the first century AD, modern science has begun supporting its claims with increasing frequency.
The process of producing essential oils can be time consuming, but as any gardener can tell you, just the smell of the plants themselves can be enough to give you a boost. So when you’re planning out your garden for the new year, think about adding some of these fragrant favorites to the mix.
Lavender and Rosemary
Both of these are common sights in American gardens — lavender for its flowers and rosemary for its use in cooking — but both are said to help cognitive performance, ease anxiety, promote relaxation, and reduce cortisol levels present in times of high stress.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a cup of peppermint tea, you know how relaxing the scent of this European perennial can be. It, too, helps with anxiety, but it also has been named as a key to regulating digestion, reducing inflammation, and boosting energy levels.
In correct doses, rose scents have been found to improve complexion, improve moods, fight depression, and aid skin regeneration. Of course, managing rose bushes can be quite an investment of time and money (especially if you factor in the cost of band-aids for thorn pricks), but no one can question their visual impact.
Lemon trees, on the other hand, are far easier to manage. Their scents and oils can help combat stress, depression, and high blood sugar — and as a side benefit, nothing lifts the mood quite like a glass of lemonade after a warm afternoon in the garden.
If you live in a warm climate, or if you don’t mind cultivating some of your plants indoors during the winter, eucalyptus might be a good addition to your repertoire. This Australian native is said to have antiseptic properties, to help blood circulation, and to treat headaches.
Looking at this list, it’s not hard to see why an aromatherapy garden can be helpful for those of us with aging parents. Many of these scents have a positive impact on memory, and some believe they can have a positive impact on older adults who are beginning to struggle with cognitive impairments and memory loss. In fact, one University of Maryland Medical Center study found that inhaling essential oils may affect olfactory receptors that stimulate areas of the brain responsible for emotion, recall, and mental health.
Other common benefits include relief for anxiety and depression — two common afflictions for seniors. Another study from the International Journal of Neuroscience indicates that massages incorporating rosemary, lavender, lemon, orange, and chamomile three times a week reduced anxiety and improved self-esteem for participating seniors.
If you’re thinking about trying aromatherapy with an aging loved one, be sure to consult their doctor, as higher dosages of essential oils may interfere with certain medications. But if you’re just planning out a garden, a little advance planning can mean a vase full of wellness for the seniors in your life!
For 50 years, Lutheran Hillside Village has been the premier resource for older adults and their families in the Peoria area. We offer independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing. To learn more about all the ways we help older adults live life to the fullest, call Ellyn at 309-692-4600 or visit LutheranHillsideVillage.org.
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