by Stephanie Chambers (and Dr. Christoph Streicher)
Just over a year ago, I spent a month nursing my mother at home for a month during the last few months of her life with the help of my brothers. She had suffered a heart attack and was very weak. For her whole life, she had strongly resisted the idea of going to live in a nursing home, and even though she was 93, and there were times when we wanted her to go to hospital, she refused. In the end, I felt proud that we were able to respect her wish of dying at home. And it was as dignified a departure as it could be.
We were lucky in that we were in Australia, so the government provided a lot of support to help us to care for my mother at home. Nurses came each day to bathe her (and to train us in how to care for her when they weren’t there), doctors made home visits and we were provided with a hospital bed – all free of charge.
Providing care for someone when they become fully incontinent is not easy by any means. We were lucky that my mother, having been a nurse herself years ago, didn’t let the embarrassment of the situation overwhelm her. At times, we would have certainly benefited from a homemade air freshener made with water and Lemon (or other citrus essential oils).
Even when she was in pain (due to some complications), she still managed to amuse the nurses. For example, one time when she was being rolled over to one side of the bed, she commented on what nice legs the nurse had – that made us all laugh.
This all happened before I came to work at Amrita Aromatherapy and before I became personally familiar with the help that essential oils can provide. But looking back, there are a number of areas where I think they could have helped:
- Nausea and vomiting – There was one terrible night where my mother vomited and kept feeling like she wanted to vomit for over 4 hours. By the end of it, I was so exhausted and we called the ambulance. She refused to go to hospital, but they were able to give her something to help her sleep so I was able to get some rest. I wish we had been able to use Peppermint or Cornmint to help with the nausea.
- Sleep quality – As you can expect, because my mother was resting all day and because of the pain, it was difficult for her to sleep at night. Sprinkling Lavender Essential Oil on her pillow and rubbing Deep Rest Roll-On on her forehead and the soles of her feet may have helped her to settle down to sleep. We could have also diffused Deep Rest Synergy or just Lavender.
- Anxiety – We could have also diffused essential oils like Bergamot, Himalayan Cedar (grounding), Neroli or Rose Geranium during the day to help her feel calm but not sleepy. There have been a couple of research studies1 done which have shown that using essential oils in hospices has been useful in terms of anxiety reduction2.
- Depression – My mother was a little down at times, as death doesn’t always come when you want it, and diffusing essential oils for depression like Rose Otto, Grapefruit, or Jasmine may have helped.
- Bruises – Because my mother’s skin was so thin and brittle, she bruised very easily. We could have applied Helichrysum (diluted to 2-5% in a penetrating carrier oil - 10 drops per tablespoon) or German Chamomile (diluted to 3% in jojoba or hazelnut oil - 15 drops per tablespoon) to the bruises to help them heal.
- Dry skin – My mother, being so elderly, her skin felt tinder dry and brittle. After the nurses bathed her, I would spend some time applying moisturizer to her skin and she really appreciated that. To stop her skin being so dry, I could have added 10 drops of Rose Geranium per tablespoon of the body lotion and maybe also 5 drops of Palmarosa Essential Oil.
- Pain management – Because she was in bed all the time, she developed bed sores. I could have added some 10 drops of Birch Essential Oil (or German Chamomile, Moroccan Blue Chamomile, Sweet Marjoram, Lavender or Helichrysum) per tablespoon of the moisturizing lotion or carrier oil. This would have helped numb the pain she was feeling.
Using essential oils for pain may have meant she could have taken less morphine (which my mother hated the taste of and which took away her appetite).
- Spiritual awakening – My mother and I had a few discussions about what happens after death. Essential oils like Frankincense, Sandalwood or Spikenard may have helped smooth her transition. Rose Otto would also have been useful as it connects us to universal love, compassion (important to care for the care givers too) an helps a lot with grief (for both).
I hope these tips will help you if you ever have the responsibility of helping someone during the last stages of their life. If you have been through this experience and have found certain essential oils useful, please share them below so all can benefit.
Disclaimer: The statements made on this page have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. If a condition persists, please contact your physician or healthcare provider. The information provided is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice.