The Beauty of Respite Care for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers

 “Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible.”

― Tia Walker, from The Inspired Caregiver: Finding Joy While Caring for Those You Love


The first words that I heard from Carol when I met her were “I want you to know, I take care of my husband.”  You see, Carol has been taking care of her husband, who has Alzheimer’s, for nearly 7 years by herself. The last  2 years have been especially hard on her.  She got help from time to time from her church but nothing more than a few hours here and there to go to an appointment or go grocery shopping.

Carol said that she heard about our respite care services at Regent Court Senior Living where I am the Community Relations Director.  Carol said she wanted to learn more but was doubtful she’d use our services.

We sat and talked a little about how loving and experienced our professional caregivers are and reassured Carol that together we could craft the perfect plan of care for her husband – honoring him in our person-centered philosophy of care.  She nodded and reluctantly said it was more impressive than she thought it would be.  But we could tell it wasn’t creating the relief that she needed.

Then, we asked Carol about Carol.

We asked Carol what she enjoyed doing, where she enjoyed going, and who her closest friends were.  It was clear that she hadn’t thought of these things in a while as she paused thoughtfully – but then she began to open up and started to share, her eyes lighting up.

We heard about how she’s always wanted to go and see the US synchronized figure skating competition with her best friends who she hasn’t spent time with in years.  The apprehension we were greeted with quickly turned to optimism as Carol painted a picture of what she would do if caregiving were not her sole focus.

It was an honor to take care of Carol’s husband – and it was equally amazing to send Carol off with her bags packed to Portland, where the 2018 US synchronized figure skating championships were held at the Rose Quarter!

Family caregivers need care and nurturing in order to be in healthy relationships with their loved one, and connected to a greater community of support.   It was an honor to be there for Carol allowing her to take a break.

Everyone needs a break

For caregivers taking care of a person with dementia, taking a break is more than just advice, it’s a prescription.  The tasks involved in caring for a loved one with an age-related cognitive challenge can be overwhelming at times.  Many caregivers feel they must be ‘strong’ for their loved one and withhold their feelings and desire for “me time” because they feel obligated to put the needs of the person they care for before themselves.  All too often, this leads to caregiver fatigue, burnout, and an unbalanced life for both people involved.

The benefits of taking a break

We understand the importance of taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others. You may believe that you should be able to “do it all”, but seeking help does not make you a failure.  In fact, the opposite is true. When you take care of yourself, you can return refreshed and fulfilled.  Regular separations from caregiving tasks create times where you can pursue your interests and do things that replenish your energy and uplift your spirit.

Perhaps it has been too long since you’ve visited the coast or took a hike through nature.  When is the last time you’ve relaxed with a good friend with no worries about your caregiving duties?  When you are away from caregiving, do you feel obligated to return or are anxious about what might happen without you?

Don’t worry if the answers to those questions are not what you’d like for yourself…you are not alone and you shouldn’t be.

What is Respite?

Respite services are short-term stays, in a home-like setting for a few days or a couple of weeks, in a specialized memory care community.  The person you are caring for experiences the full benefits of an active and social community along with a professional care team trained specifically for the care they’ll need.

By providing families with the option of short-term stays for their loved one, they can refresh and recharge their batteries, with peace and confidence knowing that their loved one is in a safe, engaging and loving environment. It is a gift to your loved one and to yourself to take a healthy break and smile, knowing everything is well taken care of.

We are grateful we can be there for the person living with cognitive challenges, and also for the families. We receive the blessing too!


Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 5.15.53 PMAbout the author:  Zeth Owen, Community Relations Director at Regent Court Memory Care in Corvallis Oregon has worked in social services since 2009 and most recently as a case manager for Senior & Disability Services. He enjoys meeting new people and spending time getting to know their stories.  Zeth says that he knew his calling was working in service for elders after seeing the joy that spreads by caring for someone.   Zeth says, “the most rewarding part of the job is the impact we have on our residents and their families when they know they’ve chosen the right place.”


Regent Court was recently awarded the Senior Advisor best of 2018 senior communities – reviewed by real families.  As a State certified community with highly trained staff, families can rest assured their loved one will receive quality care and loving support. Contact Zeth Owen at (541) 758-8000 or by email  to learn more.

Delivering Happiness – recreating marvelous memories

An estimated 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s or other dementias. At home or in senior housing communities, creating beautiful, vibrant, and active cultures where those who have cognitive loss can live with joy and purpose is important.

We believe that those who have memory loss can participate as fully capable people in an environment where the mind, body, spirit, and soul is stimulated – promoting physical and mental wellness.

In our senior housing communities, we are creating LivingMemories™ nooks in our Memory Support Neighborhoods.  We recognize that elders do not live in our work-space.  We work in their living space.

We decided to design living spaces to evoke memories of home life, work life, and creative endeavors. These spaces encourage the elders to self-direct their own lives as they remember and practice routines or life skills that were previously part of their daily lives. The team member role is a trusted friend and family support when needed.

We have seen first-hand men and women in the nursery nurturing dolls as their remembered babies. It is heart-warming as they dress them, feed them, change their diapers, and even sleep with them at night.  The parent and/or grandparent role is validated, inspiring a sense of purpose, love, and belonging.

What we’ve noticed with the nursery nook is that those who haven’t talked in a while are now talking; and in one instance, a person who was anxious, agitated, and refusing food is now eating.  Dorothy has been known to wander and exit seek. She has now found purpose and love by taking care of her “baby” in the nursery – often sitting for hours rocking the baby.

Dottie, who loves all things that sparkle, is often found smiling while at the beauty nook trying on items from the collection and showing them off to other elders, families, and care teams.

When I visit our Memory Support Neighborhoods, my heart sings as I watch the care teams entering the home of these elders and begin delivering happiness.

I see a young care team member learning alongside an elder craftsman Ruben, at a workbench. Another care team member is offering to babysit for the mothers and the grandmothers so they could tidy up the nursery.  A caring Administrator purchases flowers for Don, an avid gardener, and listens to him explain to her the proper way to plant and grow beautiful flowers.  Geraldine, once an FBI agent sits at her desk to review the daily schedule, telling me that she is in charge of making sure the employees wear their name tags.  Francesca, a pianist is playing piano at the music station as Adele dances.  We are unique.  Our team members truly work as a family unit to create and support a sense of purpose, love and belonging, self-esteem, safety, and home.

Our care teams are delivering happiness – and receiving it too!

Life station music francesca



Candis Willis, To learn more  email

About the author: Candis Willis is the Director of Operations for the Southwest Region for Compass Senior Living. Candis lives in Redding, California. She started working with seniors in 1995 as a floor nurse and has spent her career working with elders in many different capacities, from admission coordinator to administrator. The best part of this work for her is connecting with residents and seeing them flourish in life when they thought life would be over because of leaving their homes. She loves having the opportunity each day to give back to them what they have given to so many others. In addition to being a nurse, Candis also holds a Bachelors Degree in Psychology and is a licensed administrator in California, Idaho, and New Mexico.



Look Alzheimer’s in the eye this year.

Over the last few months our Director of Education and Innovation, Jean Garboden, and I have traveled to several of Compass’ senior living communities to conduct training we call Caring is What Makes Us Human: Empathetic communication with those who have dementia. Its evolved into a powerful and engaging series of stories that reflect the more than 10 years we’ve been working to try to understand dementia and finding a better way to care for those who have it. Our employees are required to attend. It’s those that are not required to attend that inspire me.

For several of the trainings, we’ve had elders and family members join us. In one recent session, I was inspired looking out at the elders’ faces that were engaged in the conversation. They were there because they wanted to be. They aren’t afraid of knowing what Alzheimer’s or other dementias can do. And, with their presence, they are facing it head-on. Elders are the ones that may see this daily amongst their peers and wonder, “am I next”? And yet, they were the ones most interested in learning about how they can care, or at least understand, what it means and how to help others.

These elders inspire me because they are engaging in the conversation that most are too afraid to have. They are arming themselves with the knowledge that will help to eliminate fear. They are building understanding that those with dementia are still there and they are whole human beings to be loved, not feared. They are showing us that age, impairments, and change are not to be feared, but understood and accepted. The elders that engage in this conversation are quiet ambassadors to making a better elderhood for the rest of us that will eventually be there.

Like cancer, the movement to find a cure for Alzheimer’s is growing because most of us know, or have known, someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. If you haven’t yet, you will. By learning about dementia and how we can still communicate with those who have it, you participate in the movement to change the language around “locked units”. These are not prisoners to be locked away. They are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, aunts, and uncles. They are in need of being safe and cared for, yes. But, they are not to be feared and avoided. They simply need us to look them in the eye, sing to them, dance with them, and know they still desire to be heard and understood.

As this new year starts please make a resolution that will make real change with one simple act. Resolve to learn more, participate in conversations, and try to understand Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Follow in these elders’ footsteps and learn what you can do to help just one individual. After all, caring is what makes us human.

About the Author:  

Photo on 9-7-17 at 4.53 PM

Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located  in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with, and for, the people that care for others.

Naughty people need love too!

“You better watch out, you better not cry! Better not pout, I’m telling you why…Santa Claus is coming to town. He’s making a list, and checking it twice; gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…Santa Claus is coming to town.” ~ J. Fred Coots, Henry Gillespie – 1934

As the holidays’ approach, I begin humming the old childhood songs as I go about my day.   This year as I listened to the words and the messages in my little-girl-mind, I realized that this was, indeed a strong message that was given to my generation.

  • Be a good girl or boy
  • It is best to be seen and not heard
  • Don’t cry!
  • Wipe that pout off your face!
  • You are naughty!
  • Be nice

But you know, as I have grown up, I have learned from the Elders that even those who are naughty need love! Sometimes we need to cry or pout, and express our anger and hurt!

The elders have taught me that

  • All human beings have basic human needs.
  • If those basic human needs are not met – we ‘act naughty’.  Some people say we have  ‘disruptive behaviors’ or we are ‘not being nice’.
  • If we recognize that ‘naughty behavior’ is merely an expression of unmet needs, we can respond with empathy to fill that need for the other person, and in doing so, give grace and connect with love and kindness instead of being annoyed.

Dr. Abraham Maslow created the hierarchy of needs in 1943, and I am teaching families and care team members to notice especially if a person living with a cognitive challenge is exhibiting what some people would consider  ‘naughty behavior’, to analyze and determine what basic human need is not met.

Maslow Hierarchy of needs

  • Is the person in pain?  (Physiological need)
  • Is the person frightened or afraid? (safety need)
  • Is the person lonely and longing for companionship? (Love and belonging need)
  • Is the person distressed at the loss of their purpose and status in life?  (Self-esteem need)

If you and I can understand the unmet need behind that ‘naughty behavior’ we can respond with empathy and help the person find peace.

Let me tell you a story of a man  living with dementia who was expressing  his unmet needs through outbursts of behavior, and how we discovered the solution to his needs utilizing Maslow’s hierarchy as a guide.

Paul is spending the entire morning walking the halls crying and calling out his wife’s name. “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly!”  A well-meaning care team member says, “Dolly went shopping, she will be back later.”  Paul begins to wail and scream her name, “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly!”   He is looking for her everywhere and is upset that he can’t find her. Another care team member recognizing his distress as an unmet need for the love of his wife says, “Paul, tell me about Dolly.  What color are her eyes?  What do you miss most about her?”   After a few minutes of expressing his love for Dolly, Paul says very quietly, “She has been gone a long time, I really miss her hugs.”      

The first well-meaning care team member told a ‘therapeutic lie.  Paul knows deep inside that Dolly did not go shopping, and his anxiety increased.  Paul is trying to communicate to someone that will listen that he misses Dolly.   When he was invited to share and release his deep feelings and heartbreak to the second care team member his unmet need for love and belonging was met – and he had peace.

  • Listening with empathy to determine the unmet need builds trustreduces anxiety and restores dignity
  • Painful feelings that are expressed and acknowledged by an empathetic listener will diminish.
  • Painful feelings that are ignored or suppressed will gain in strengthThe power of empathy to connect and to relieve pain that is pent up inside can bring peace of mind.

How many of us label or are labeled as  ‘naughty or nice’ based on our behaviors?  We are good just as we are.  It is ok to cry. It is ok to pout. We have been told since childhood to be happy, to be nice, to be a good girl or boy, and not to be naughty!  But sometimes, we are not happy, and we simply want someone there to hear us, and listen with empathy, and let us cry and release those painful feelings.  We can be the empathetic listener  for the elders we care for.  We can do this for family members, and we can do this for one another.

If you have friends or loved ones that are grumpy this holiday season… before you get annoyed at their ‘naughty behavior’  – think about it.  Are they expressing an unmet need?  Are they hungry and tired? Do they need a hug? Are they worried about money and finances? What is their unmet need?  Give them a little grace and a lot of love. Be there to listen with empathy, and support them to express their painful feelings.  You will make their day!

Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada


Adios and thank you, Glen Campbell for teaching us to ‘Try a little kindness” 1936-2017

Glen Campbell, the upbeat guitarist from Delight, Arkansas, whose smooth vocals and down-home manner made him a mainstay of music and television for decades, has died, his family announced on Facebook on Tuesday. He was 81. In 2012 he wrote and recorded his last new song, Adios.

He inspired us in many ways and showed us in the last few years that those living with Alzheimer’s are whole, complete beings who can inspire and teach us.   Go to his Facebook page to say goodbye.  And in gratitude for his life, let’s all show a little kindness.

If you see your brother standing by the road
With a heavy load from the seeds, he’s sowed
And if you see your sister falling by the way
Just stop and say, you’re going the wrong way
You got to try a little kindness
Yes show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you’ll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets”


About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.

Old people are less relevant, and have less value – self fulfilling prophecy?

“When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.” (Rosenthal  1985)

In 1968 Dr. Robert Rosenthal conducted an experiment. The teachers in a single California elementary school were told that some of their students could be expected to be “intellectual bloomers,” doing better than expected in comparison to their classmates.

  • The “intellectual bloomers” names were made known to the teachers, and the teachers were not told that these children were actually no more talented or smarter than other kids, scoring average and below average IQ scores.
  • At the end of the study, all students were again tested with the same IQ test used at the beginning of the study. All six grades in both experimental and control groups showed a  gain in IQ from before the test to after the test.
  • However, First and Second Graders showed statistically significant gains favoring the experimental group of “intellectual bloomers.” This led to the conclusion that teacher expectations, particularly for the youngest children, can influence student achievement.
  • Rosenthal concluded that even attitude or mood could positively affect the students when the teacher was made aware of the children they thought to be  “intellectual bloomers.” The teacher may pay closer attention to and even treat the child differently in times of difficulty.
  • This study has been utilized over the past 50 years, in different situations, and is called a self-fulfilling prophecy or Pygmalion or Rosenthal effect.
  • If a group or a person has a particular expectation of a certain behavior of another group or a person, the expected behavior is likely to occur.

When it comes to aging, our whole culture is saturated with the expectation that there are certain stereotypes of how older people should act including elder adults themselves.

“What if everything we have learned about aging is wrong?”  Dr. Bill Thomas,

  • Society expects and believes that elderhood and aging are bad, sad, and depressing – and so, as we age we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur!
  • A study published in the journal Experimental Aging Research suggests that just reminding elders of the fact that older people have bad memories, for example, may be enough to negatively affect their recall ability.
  • Not surprising given that this effect can be found in any subgroup or individual. Tell someone they are dumb long enough and they will believe it and act accordingly.

Self-perceptions and society perceptions of aging tend to influence thoughts and behaviors without people being consciously aware that this is happening.  Changing perceptions of aging is challenging because it involves both individual perceptions of aging and wide-spread societal negative stereotypes that are plastered on social media, news, and in advertising.

Changing aging can begin with you and me.  After all, whatever your age, if you are not an elder now,  you are an elder-in-waiting!

“What you think, you become,” Buddha taught. You’ve heard high-minded quotes like these all your life. Now science has caught up. We can finally quantify and track how beliefs and expectations can shape outcomes.

Older adults who associate aging with ongoing growth and the pursuit of meaningful activities are more likely to view experiences – both enjoyable and challenging in adaptive ways.   We need to push back on the societal stereotypes.  And the data proves that we must, indeed change the current paradigm of aging now to preserve our own true identities as we age.

  • Longevity: A 23-year study,  of older adults who reported more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those who bought into society’s negative stereotype of aging.
  •  Illness: In a study of 1,286 people who believed that aging is a time of continued learning and development reported fewer illnesses six years later.  In contrast, those who believed that aging is a time of physical loss had increased physical illness over the same time period.
  • Brain Health: Compared to people with more positive views of aging, those who endorsed more negative age stereotypes displayed greater signs of risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease. It was discovered that the hippocampus, an area of the brain related to memory, decreased in size at a faster rate in those who embraced negative age stereotypes. (Moser, Spagnoli, & Santos-Eggimann, 2011)

So, when you look in the mirror, see the truth about yourself.  We are all aging, and society may say you are ‘over the hill,” worn out, of no value, unattractive, and worse. Do you believe that?  Or are you ready to disrupt that idea?

Look at your future elder self in a mirror.  What do you see?  It is proven that “As we think we shall become.”

  • Look at your future elder self: Do you see yourself as a full, capable, beautiful human being, with a vibrant curious spirit even if you have lost your hair, your mobility,  your vision, or your mind?
  • Look at your future elder self: Do you see yourself growing, learning, giving, playing, and living?
  • Look at your future elder self:  Are you able to embrace your life, and recognize that you have much to give and share – right up until that very last breath when you transition to your next great adventure?

Join the movement to change society’s stereotype of aging. Do not let the expectations of society about aging become a self-fulfilling prophecy for you.   You have an opportunity now to change your future experience beyond adulthood, embracing your journey into your own elderhood.

About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.

Empathy – An expression of non-judgemental love

You never really understand another person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. –Harper Lee

All we need is love ~ especially working in eldercare.  The basic human need for  love and belonging is an imperative to life!

According to the latest neuroscience research, 98% of people (the exceptions include those with psychopathic tendencies) have the ability to empathize wired into their brains – a capacity for stepping into the shoes of others and understanding their feelings and perspectives.

Empathy is a key ingredient of nurturing relationships and can forge loving and safe connections.

Here are some stories of  empathetic communication break-through moments I have observed working with those living with dementia:

Paul is spending the entire morning walking the halls and calling out his wife’s name. “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly!”  A well-meaning care team member says, “Dolly went shopping, she will be back later.”  Paul begins to wail and scream her name, “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly!”   He is looking for her everywhere and is very upset he can’t find her. Another care team member utilizing empathetic communication says, “Tell me about Dolly.  What color are her eyes?  What do you miss most about her?”   After a few minutes, Paul says, “She has been gone a long time, I really miss her hugs.”      

The first well meaning care team member has sympathy for Paul and told atherapeutic lie.  Paul  knows deep inside that Dolly has been gone for 20 years, and he is communicating that he misses her.  He was invited to share and release his deep feelings and heartbreak to  the second care team member who listened with empathy and love.  

Madeline starts pacing at 4:30 every afternoon to go home to her children. “I want to go home! I need to get home to my children!”  A well-meaning care team member  says, “Sit down. Everything’s OK.  Let’s go  have a cookie.” Madeline  gets more and more nervous, agitated, and upset.Another care team member utilizing empathetic communication asks Madeline, “What is the worst thing that will happen if you can’t get home?”  Madeline expresses her vivid memory of having left her children alone. Her fears are expressed to a trusted empathetic listener, and her painful feelings are diminished. 

The first well meaning  care team member has sympathy for Madeline, and she usedre-direction to try to calm Madeline’s fears.   Madeline is reliving a vivid memory of leaving her children alone at home.  She needs to express her fears to an empathetic listener who is willing to enter Madeline’s reality to relieve her fears.

Listening with empathy builds trust, reduces anxiety and restores dignityPainful feelings that are expressed and acknowledged  by an empathetic listener will diminish.

Painful feelings that are ignored or suppressed will gain in strength. The power of empathy to connect and to relieve pain that is pent up inside can bring peace of mind to those living with dementia.  

Empathy is an expression of non-judgemental love and a connection to another human being.  Yes, indeed, love does belong in the workplace! 

If these 8th graders, below, can define and act with empathy, we are all capable of acting with empathy. Listen to the wisdom of these children.

Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes. –Theodore Dreiser

11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_nAbout the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada

The Brain and Aromatherapy – 5 essential oils for Alzheimer’s symptoms



Essential aroma oil
Peppermint aroma oil  is an energizer, and can be used to stimulate the mind and calm nerves at the same time.

I had learned that patchouli oil can be utilized as an insect repellant, so one afternoon I put a few drops in some coconut oil and used it on my face and arms and legs before going outside.  On my way to the park I stopped at Walmart for some water. I was standing in line when a middle aged man came up to me and said, “You smell good! What fragrance are you wearing?  It takes me back to my hippie days.” He began to describe in vivid detail where he was in his ‘hippie days’ and his experiences.   I was somewhat embarrassed that after smelling me –  he was enthusiastically  recounting his memories of the 1960’s and 1970’s in front of a long line of people!

The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.  Those with full olfactory function may be able to just ‘think’ of smells that evoke particular memories such as the gentleman in Walmart – conjuring up recollections of a whole lifetime before.  This can often happen spontaneously, with a smell acting as a trigger in recalling a long-forgotten event or experience.

After a smell enters the nose, it travels through the cranial nerve through the olfactory bulb, which helps the brain process smells. The Female Limbic System - Anatomy Brainolfactory bulb is part of the limbic system –  the emotional center of the brain.

When your olfactory receptors are stimulated, they transmit impulses to your brain. This pathway is directly connected to your limbic system in the center of your brain.   That’s why your reactions to smell are rarely neutral – you usually either like or dislike a smell. Smells also leave long-lasting impressions and are strongly linked to your memories. That’s why it is worth exploring how aromas may impact the brain and memory of those living with cognitive loss.

As noted in the Journal of Quality Research in Dementia, a limited number of clinical trials have concluded that aromatherapy provides a potentially effective and safe treatment for Alzheimer’s symptoms and related dementias.

While research on the effectiveness of essential oils is somewhat limited, some studies have shown aromatherapy can:

  • Ease symptoms of anxiety
  • Offer relief from symptoms of depression
  • Improve the quality of life for people living with chronic health conditions

In addition to the therapeutic benefits of the oils themselves, sensory stimulation   can decrease agitation, improve sleep and improve the overall quality of life for those living with memory loss.

In our community settings, we have experimented with 5 major essential oils.  We do not apply the oil directly on the skin. It is not ingested.   It is strictly used as aromatherapy, utilized through a diffuser or a few drops on a cotton ball, or in water sprayed on linens or in a basin of water with warm washcloths.

Below are the oils known to be effective for those with symptoms of dementia:

  1. LavenderLavender is thought to be calming and balance strong emotions. It has also been used to help with depression, anger and irritability, and can help in some cases of insomnia. Lavender can be directly inhaled or sprayed on linens.
  2. PeppermintPeppermint is an energizer and can be used to stimulate the mind and calm nerves at the same time. Best used in the morning, peppermint oil can be inhaled directly, diffused in a room, or  sprayed in the air.  We fill a basin with hot water and washcloths and a few drops of peppermint in the mornings, and give the warm, scented washcloths to our elders before breakfast.  It is a great start to the day!
  3. RosemarySimilar to peppermint, Rosemary is an uplifting oil.  It may even improve cognitive performance and mood. Rosemary has also been known to ease constipation, symptoms of depression and also reinvigorate the appetite. Rosemary oil can be directly inhaled, diffused through a room or as a spray.
  4. BergamotBergamot can be used to relieve anxiety, agitation, mild depression, and stress.  This mood elevating and calming oil can also be used to relieve insomnia. To use bergamot oil,  diffuse through a room or as a spray on clothing or linens.
  5. Lemon BalmWhile lemon oil may be among the more expensive oils, it is also one of the most studied and more effective oils. It has been shown to help  calm and relax those dealing with anxiety and insomnia, improve memory and ease indigestion. Lemon oil can be  inhaled directly, diffused, or  as a spray on clothing or linens.

The Faculty of Nursing, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia did an 18 month study utilizing essential oils in the following ways– Bath, Inhalation, Diffusion, Massage, Spritzer.  Their findings: ” The specific improvements for clients included increased alertness, self-hygiene, contentment, initiation of toileting, sleeping at night and reduced levels of agitation, withdrawal and wandering. Family carers have reported less distress, improved sleeping patterns and feelings of calm.”

We have not conducted our own studies yet. Some of us are in the process of becoming certified aromatherapists.  We have anecdotal evidence that indicates aromatherapy is effective.

But I wonder –   Is it effective because of the oils alone? – or could it have something to do with the intentional and empathetic manner in which the aromatherapy is introduced?   Our care teams are studying and seeking  solutions. They are noticing when an elder is demonstrating an unmet need, and responding by being present, eye contact, validating language, respect, and tender care.

Whether it is the aromatherapy or the intentional person-centered approach and empathetic communication – or both,  the results matter.  We know we are making connections. We are in relationship with elders in our care, and we are inspired by the opportunity to learn the lessons the elders are teaching us every day. And some beautiful aromas make the day happier for all of us!

About the Author:    Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living 11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_n, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years experience in not-for-profit and for profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living.


“You have dropped down from heaven to be here with me!”

“You are magic! You have dropped down from heaven to be here with me.” Those are the words I heard from an elder with Alzheimer’s a few weeks ago. I shared with my care team earlier in the day that I am doing aromatherapy research. We sampled a few essential oils on cotton balls during a short morning stand up  meeting. Later a care team member came to me and asked to experiment with the oils to see if we could relieve agitation for a woman she was caring for. As I approached the elder, and asked permission to put a drop of lavender oil on a cotton ball to put in her pocket, she said those amazing words, “You are magic!”  We held hands and talked for a few minutes….. that made my day!

When I do dementia training in a community, I usually do a full day of classroom instruction teaching an empathetic communication approach that is person-centered and elder-directed.  For several days after the classroom training I live in the community, doing hands-on coaching and role modeling the methods. I am present on all 3 shifts, and I learn so much from the elders and the care teams.  This is a reciprocal learning laboratory, with real life situations.

What warmed my heart that day was that the care team members were fully engaged as investigators, and solution finders.  They had learned about the basic human needs as defined by Maslow, and how to identify unmet needs.  They understood the power of touch, and being present.  They had learned how  to utilize empathetic speech, touch, and approaches. They were using the tools and tips that they had learned on that first day; recognizing that they had the ability to do critical thinking to determine  ways to support and guide  elders who are trying to find their way in a confusing world.

This work can be empowering to care team members!

  • To  have the opportunity to be instrumental in calming the unknown fears of an elder.
  • To make a truly amazing connection with a 90 year old who feels alone.
  • To recognize that the very nature of caregiving rituals: washing others, holding others, feeding others and dressing others – is intimate and sacred work that brings with it gifts of dignity, respect, intelligence, and kindness.
  • To be so in touch with another person, that you are seen as a miracle – as a gift from heaven!

Today, I got an email from one of our communities with a note from a family, that said in part:

“Our prayers were answered! Your staff made our mother feel comfortable and loved from the moment she moved in.  As her family we felt included throughout her stay. Thank you is not enough to express how appreciative we are to all of you for making her last months of her 89 years the easiest it could be as she transitioned to her heavenly home!  Forever Grateful, the family. P.S. Keep making a difference for people who need you.”

This is good work, hard work, rewarding work.   The world needs caregivers  and leaders who are enthusiastically supporting  families and elders and one another at the crescendo of an elder’s life as they prepare for their next great adventure.  In our communities, we  are guided by goodness, loyalty, faith, and fun.    It is also important that we are guided by love for one another and for the work we are all called to do.

Love, Love, Love – All you need is Love – All you need is Love, Love. Love is all you need!

About the Author:    Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Ede11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_nn
Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living.