AAPACN is dedicated to supporting post-acute care nurses provide quality care.

Leading the Way to Reducing Medications Using Essential Oils

Innovation occurs when an idea is transformed into a good or service that offers value. Essential oils may be the innovative idea you’ve been searching for to help reduce medication use.

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years, but recently they have gained recognition as an alternative treatment in nursing homes. DONs are integrating essential oils to treat agitation, sleep issues, sundowners, and loss of appetite, in lieu of using medications. Essential oil implementation is a great way to start reducing the use of some medications and can offer many benefits to both your residents and staff.

For Mary Mulligan, RN, MA, CDONA/LTC, implementing an essential oil policy and protocol was a game-changer. With more than 15 years of experience in a DON role in post-acute and long-term care settings, Mary wanted to introduce holistic medicine into her facility’s practice to help the residents with dementia. After working with a company to buy an oil kit and develop the policy for use, she trained the CNAs by showing them how the oils were to be used with the residents, which resulted in autonomy and added responsibility for the CNAs.

“We went to a local hobby store and purchased various foam shapes such as hearts, squares, and stars from the arts and crafts section, then added Velcro strips to the shapes. The CNAs would dab oils on the shape, such as the ‘Wake Up and Feed Me’ oil blend, and place on or near the resident. Before we knew it, the residents were eating and drinking more and wouldn’t sleep through their meals. They were actually eating with minimal assistance and gaining weight!” mentioned Mary.

Beyond using oils for meals, Mary noticed that utilizing the oils on agitated residents at bedtime helped them calm down and sleep without hypnotics. “Then at 3 pm when shift change occurred, the patients would get caught up in the excitement and would show behavior changes. I started diffusing lavender, ylang ylang, and bergamot, and noticed a distinct difference in the memory care wing – things were calm and quiet!”

Like Mary’s administrator, many administrators support the implementation of essential oils because they are a non-pharmacological intervention and reduce the use of medication. By teaming up with the medical director, residents can really benefit from integrative options like essential oils. “The goal is to improve quality of life for the patient and the use of essential oils is one approach in meeting this goal.”

The benefits of essential oils go beyond lowering hypnotic use. Consider using essential oils to treat anxiety, increase appetite, increase alertness, treat allergies, or improve mood. When medications are used to treat these conditions, they come with the potential for harmful side effects in the elderly. Trying essential oils may limit the number of medications overall, so now’s the time to be an innovative nurse leader and implement the use of essential oils in your facility.

Here are some tips to getting started with your own essential oil plan:

·         Use therapeutic grade, 100% pure oils

·         Start with just one challenge that oils might help with

·         Get the whole team on board

·         Develop a policy and plan for use

·         Train your team

·         Consider using:

o   Lavender, bergamot, and ylang ylang to calm and improve sleep

o   Wild Orange or other citrus oils to increase appetite

o   Ginger and peppermint to aid in digestion

These oils can be mixed with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, and applied to the skin, or diffused into the air and offer a holistic way to treat the chronic conditions of the residents. There are several other options to help release the benefit of the oils as well. For example, you can add a drop of lavender oil to shampoo to help inspire a more peaceful state of mind.

Are you interested in more discussion on this subject? Start a risk free trial membership with AAPACN and engage with other nurse leader peers in the DNS Network private online member community!


Reviewed and revised 3/1/21

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