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AARP Expert

Managing Sundowners Syndrome: #8 Try Essential Oils

The anxiety and distress that come with Sundowners can be so upsetting—both for our loved ones and for us as their caregivers. I found that I had to get creative to ease Dad’s symptoms, and one of the things that helped both Dad, who had Alzheimer’s, and me, leads me to my next tip:


Try Using Essential Oils


Experiment with types of oils and various ways to use them.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Find an essential oils expert, preferably with lots of experience, and ask for a consultation. Explain your current challenges and ask for recommendations. To find an expert, you might ask a naturopathic physician, ask at a local store that sells essential oils or ask friends if they know anyone who might help.
  • Lavender, rose, ylang-ylang, chamomile, blue tansy, frankincense are among essential oils that can be calming. I kept a diffuser with lavender oil going all night in Dad’s room.
  • If you want to encourage waking up and activity during the day (so your loved ones will sleep better at night), try bergamot, jasmine, peppermint, rosemary or a citrus such as grapefruit, lemon or orange. I used a lot of lemon and grapefruit oils in our diffuser in the mornings to energize both Daddy and me!
  • Test which scents your loved ones (and you!) respond to—there may be some trial and error involved. Some oils immediately felt right to me, others gave me a headache! Some smelled fantastic; others…not so much. Some of it is about individual preferences.
  • Be sure to see how the oils are affecting others in the household. Dad’s service dog, Mr. Jackson was allergic to one oil that we liked – his eyes would water, so we had to stop using that one.
  • Do some reading about the different ways to deliver essential oil. Be sure to check with your loved ones’ doctors before using essential oils and be aware of any allergic reactions. Some options include:
    • Inhale the scents via aromatherapy via water-based diffusers, plug-in diffusers, air sprays (mixed with water), smelling a little oil on a cotton ball or a few drops on a pillowcase etc.
    • Apply oils to skin in body lotions or in bathwater.
  • Be sure to dilute essential oils according to the way you are using them. Dilution with “carrier” oils (like olive oil, almond oil or coconut oil) or lotions can be crucial to prevent allergic reactions. Rarely will you ever use an essential oil without diluting it first.
  • Research and use appropriate amounts of oils. With pure essential oils, even one drop can really make a big difference. Also, consider using good-quality oils. I tried to use organic oils.

Research varies as to the scientific efficacy of essential oils, but if you’ve ever smelled chocolate chip cookies baking when you walk in a room you know that scents are connected to our brains and to our emotions. If essential oils work for your loved ones and/or for you, then give it a go, if their doctor approves!


Let us know if you find essential oils helpful in managing the stress and difficult behaviors of Sundowners.


Take care,

Amy Goyer, AARP Family & Caregiving Expert

Author, Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving



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