Aromatherapy is good for the mind, body and soul and it’s used regularly at Good Samaritan Society – Specialty Care Community in the Twin Cities.

“A person will get an effect from aromatherapy just from smelling different oils,” says Kendra Willey, wellness resource and quality assurance process improvement coordinator at Specialty Care Community.

Kendra began regularly providing aromatherapy to residents in December 2015 and most often uses it as a way to enhance their sense of well-being.

According to Kendra, aromatherapy can influence mood in a variety of ways. Because scent is closely tied to memory, positive associations with certain scents can influence one’s mood. Once the chemical structure of the aromatic properties enters a person’s olfactory system and is processed – either by breathing in essential oils or putting them on the skin – their mood can be shifted as the oils activate certain areas of the brain.

Kendra says there are a handful of oils – such as spearmint and grapefruit – that will help improve a person’s mood and boost their overall well-being if they are feeling sleepy or have low energy.

She mentions that other oils help those who are dealing with upsetting emotions. “Whether you are feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed, lavender would be a good one to go to,” Kendra adds.

Due to the pandemic, she currently provides aromatherapy to residents in their rooms. If she sees someone who’s acting anxious, she has them smell the oils associated with being calm and feeling peaceful. She also has them practice deep-breathing techniques.

Before the pandemic, Kendra offered aromatherapy in group settings to residents and incorporated other sensory experiences, such as massaging their hands and having them listen to musical instruments played by a music therapist. She also had a photo of something peaceful, like a nature scene, projected on the screen as she led the groups through guided meditations.

In addition to helping enhance residents’ health, Kendra is a registered dietitian and uses her master’s degree in holistic health studies to educate health care workers on the benefits of aromatherapy.

Her co-workers, who are all trained in how to provide aromatherapy, help support her. “It’s the expectation that every nurse, CNA, TMA and people in the business office know what we do and what the expectation is so they can engage in care if they need to,” says Kendra.

Supporting those with Huntington’s disease

In addition to seniors, Specialty Care Community provides care for those living with Huntington’s disease.

“They love aromatherapy,” says Kendra. “A handful want their lavender every night at bedtime. It’s part of their sleep hygiene routine.”

Residents often advocate for themselves and tell her and other staff members what they like and don’t like when it comes to aromatherapy. And they also enjoy the guided meditation and chair yoga that Kendra leads.

“They’re a really fun group to work with,” she says.