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Aromatherapy and Palliative Care

Think of someone in your life that you have been very close to or fond of. Chances are, even if you aren’t aware of it they have their own smell.

Tuberose, cigars and whiskey, ink and offices, coffee , Old Spice... you name it. What happens when you get a whiff of that signature scent? Well it causes a jolt in your limbic system that will not only cause you to remember them immediately, but more than that you will feel a familiar comfort and sense of security, peace and calm. A warmth of wellbeing that gives you an “everything’s going to be ok” vibe.

Aromas are keys that unlock parts of the most primal part of our brain, the limbic system. Also where fight and flight urges are controlled from, and the manufacturer of its more modern form of response - anxiety. Have you ever left a piece of your clothing with a child who was going to be separated from you? Chances are when they picked up that garment and pressed it to their nose their vital signs if elevated as a stress response normalised.

Scent molecules cross the blood brain barrier and have a direct link to our neurochemistry.

This is why a smell can evoke such a strong reaction, both positive and negative. “The nose knows.”

We can use this to our advantage in caring for palliative patients. Pharmaceuticals can help, but holistically we need to be able to offer more. Nursing is a healing art. We can use aromatherapy (the art and science of using essential oils therapeutically) as a tool in our efforts to help relieve the suffering of those in our care. Delivered directly to the skin through massage, compress or an aromatic bath, or indirectly by inhalation via a diffuser or spritzing with a spray, aromas can and do have a place in relieving anxiety.

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