Aromatherapy for stroke patients

As it's the Stroke Association's Action on Stroke Month we thought we'd do a quick blog on how aromatherapy massage can be of benefit to people suffering the effects of a stroke.

As with all conditions, each person needs a comprehensive holistic health assessment before the aromatherapy massage can progress. Most stroke patients will be receiving medication to thin the blood – to help prevent a re-occurrence – so it is important to check with the person's doctor or physiotherapist prior to treatment.

As with many forms of natural medicine, Aromatherapy can work very well alongside orthodox treatment for this condition. Other forms of “Complementary Medicine” that can be particularly effective can include Acupuncture, Reflexology and Reiki - with Yoga and Tai Chi being excellent forms of rehabilitation type exercise. Apart from being great stress busters, Yoga and Tai Chi can help improve dexterity and coordinated movements, balance and even speech.

A study performed in Hong Kong demonstrated that regular massage without essential oils helped lower blood pressure and brought down the heart rate for stroke patients, as well as easing stress and anxiety levels. Another small study conducted in 2017 found that back massages and foot baths with essential oils also had a significant effect on physical stress, mood status and sleep satisfaction in stroke patients. 

The Chief Executive of ECAS, a Scottish charity set up in 1902 to help those suffering from disabilities, said that “many stroke patients needed assistance to regain their strength and walk again”. He also stated that “Aromatherapy was an effective way of improving quality of life for people suffering from physical disabilities". In one of their surveys they found that 50% of patients reported improved joint mobility after an aromatherapy treatment. They also reported that 75% of patients had reduced physical tension and an improved sense of wellbeing.

Those suffering from the effects of a stroke may find that they take a while to recover from their symptoms – and each person varies in the rate, pace and level of improvements they experience. This is often related to the length of time taken to get them to hospital after the stroke occurred, demonstrating how vital speedy recognition is. So, the variation in recovery rates and the difficulty in predicting the form that the progress may take can create a lot of frustration and stress. Imagine having to learn to walk and talk again. Aromatherapy therefore, combined with gentle massage, can be soothing, relaxing – easing areas of tension and bringing comfort, calm and relaxation. The treatment can also help those caring for their loved one, giving them some much needed respite during the treatment, as well as benefiting from the effects of the oils themselves.

With aromatherapy massage, as always, essential oils are chosen according to the individual's needs. Oils that tend to be indicated are pain relievers, those to help combat the shock and stress of the symptoms, and those that stimulate circulation, lift the mood and aid memory and concentration.

When working with stroke patients, I often get the family involved. Showing them basic massage techniques, and leaving them a cream and an oil combination, enables them to continue benefiting from the powerful effects of the essential oils and the massage. It also gives those caring for their loved one something positive that they can do – as this can be a highly stressful and frustrating time for them too, and they are often desperate to be able to do something pro-active to help.

Key areas to pay attention to, although this varies according to the individual, are the shoulders and neck, and clearly the reflexology points on the feet that relate to the head, neck and shoulders – the big toe symbolising the head area.

The essential oils vary too – but the oils that I tend to focus on are those that stimulate brain function and circulation. Here are some suggested blends which can be added to 30ml of carrier oil:-

  • 4 drops Rosemary, 1 Peppermint and 10 Lavender
  • 4 drops Rosemary, 3 Frankincense, 2 Black Pepper and 6 Lavender
  • 2 drops Plai, 5 Sweet Orange, 3 Clary Sage and 5 Lavender

These oils can also be added to 30ml of Moisturising Lotion which may be easier for the family to apply in between treatments. Remember - always check that your patient likes the scent of the combinations that you have chosen.

Joannah Metcalfe
Consultant Aromatherapist

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