Aromatherapy in the Hospice Setting

Aromatherapy in the Hospice Setting

by: Barbara Vander Wagen

In recent years aromatherapy has been partnered with various western medicine specialties as an effective and collaborative therapy.  One of these specialties is patients and their care givers in the palliative care and Hospice setting. So, how does it work, and what can aromatherapy treat?

The physiological and psychological effects of essential oils used in aromatherapy have been a beneficial adjunct to countless peoples.  From treating stress/anxiety, headaches, emotional traumas, to women laboring in childbirth, physical illness, the symptoms of auto-immune disease, respiratory congestion and allergies, or to just create a mood with scent, aroma therapy has contributed to emotional stability and a feeling of well-being for its users.

One of the most emotional and stressful situations one may experience is caring for a dying loved one at home or in a hospital.  Physically the care of bathing, lifting, re-positioning, and personal hygiene is often exhausting for the care givers.  The emotional stress, grief and sense of loss felt with caring for a dying loved one is exhausting and difficult. For the patient, end-of-life can be fearful, sad, and painful both emotionally and physically. Aromatherapy can soothe and rebalance and refresh both the care giver and patient.

 A nurse helps the senior woman dialing a number on the tiny keyboard

The best method for the delivery of essential oils or blends is a cold air diffuser, or as a scented oil for massage, or a comfort pillow inside the patient’s pillow case.  Below is a chart recommending certain essential oils depending on Symptoms (ACHS 2015)


Essential Oil Therapeutic Properties Method of Use
Bergamot Anxiolytic, antidepressant Inhalation
Cedarwood Relaxing, sedative, calming Inhalation
Geranium Balancing, antidepressant Inhalation
Lavender Relaxing, calming Massage, inhalation
Neroli Uplifting, calming Massage, inhalation
Patchouli Relaxing, sedative Inhalation
Pepper (Black) Reduces pain Massage
Roman Chamomile Antispasmodic, relaxing Massage, inhalation
Rose Improve concentration Massage, inhalation
Ylang-Ylang Reduce systolic blood pressure Massage, inhalation


As there are recommended essential oils for use, there are also several essential oils that should not be used in the hospice setting. These oils are disease specific and are listed below.


Disease Process                                       Essential Oil

Cancer                                                        Anise, basil, fennel, and nutmeg

Estrogen dependent cancers                Anise, fennel, lemongrass, Melissa, citronella, bergamot,

And eucalyptus

Cardiac disease                                        peppermint

Hepatic disease                                       Anise, basil, bay, cinnamon, clove

Renal disease                                           Bay, cinnamon, clove


The hospice patient has a different set of needs than a patient that is anticipated to get well. These patients require a huge investment of compassion, time and personal care.  Family members and caregivers often become overwhelmed with the physical and emotional toll that impacts them. Aromatherapy can be a safe and effective addition to soothing the anxieties, emotional stresses and provide physical relaxation for both patient and care giver.




Retrieved 8/1/2018, “Aromatherapy for Hospice”

Complementary Nursing in End of Life Care: Integrative Care in Palliative Care by Madeleine Kerkhof-Knapp Hayes (2015)

ACHS (2015) Aromatherapy Materia Medica Essential Oil Monograph. Part 1 edn. American College Of Healthcare Sciences.


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