Aromatherapy in Hospice Care

Guest Blogger:Nikki Hernandez, Clinical Certified Aromatherapist at The Hospice of Saint John, located in Lakewood , CO

Nikki Hernandez with a patient at the Hopsice of St. John

I have been involved in hospice care for over 20 years, and have used aromatherapy in my daily practice since 1995. I was first introduced to aromatherapy when one of my patients, had chosen various integrative modalities to compliment her standard medical treatments; she was my first introduction to aromatherapy within the hospice setting. We used essential oils as I bathed her, gave her gentle hand, back or foot massages and diffused them in her room. Thus began my introduction into the world of aromatherapy and the benefits to hospice patients as well as staff and volunteers. I went on the become certified in clinical aromatherapy

When implementing an Aromatherapy program into a Hospice setting, I would suggest you start slowly and designate a “champion”; an individual who can dedicate a portion of their time on a consistent basis to educate, answer questions and demonstrate the many benefits of aromatherapy in the hospice setting. Once the momentum builds the entire staff and facility will wonder how they ever existed without aromatherapy. The Clinical Aromatherapist position at the Hospice of Saint John started out with me dedicating 20 hours a week specifically to the aromatherapy program, within nine months there was enough of a request of my aromatherapy treatments that it was decided I would focus on the program for 30 hours a week, and by the time the program had been in effect for one year I was given a full time, 40 hour position. I continue to work as a full time Clinical Aromatherapist and dedicate all of my time to this program. Aromatherapy is no longer considered a “complementary service” as it is integrated into patient care. The Hospice of Saint John now has a functional Aromatherapy program that benefits patients, families and staff.

Here are some of the questions I get asked frequently……

Why implement an Aromatherapy Program in a hospice setting?

a.) Aromatherapy can help to controls pain, nausea and anxiety.

b.) Aromatherapy can help to control odors.

c.) Many essential oils properties include antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-fungal and anti-viral actions,
this is of benefit during cold and flu season.

d.) The stress and agitation with patient’s decreases, thus they are calmer and happier.

e.) When the patient is in a calmer, peaceful state, both the families and staff benefit.

f.) Patients tend to live  with better quality of life when they are in a calmer state.

g.) We have seen that when patients are less distressed it is easier for the staff to support them, and we
actually have seen a reduction in workmans comp claims.

When is it best to use Aromatherapy?

a.) From the beginning of the admission of the patient; Aromatherapy can be used as a comfort care
measure, environmental as well as wound care.  To help reduce stress with patients, family and staff.

b.) During Cold and Flu season

c.) For wound care, please have your wound care for open and closed wound specialist address the
specific needs of individual patients.

How to use essential oils in the hospice setting?

a.) Diffuse with a Diffuser/Nebulizer

b.) Place 1-3 drops on a cotton ball, presented in a medicine cup (with a lid) for individual inhalation as

c.) Blended in lotion or cream to be used during a body massage, hand or foot rub.

d.)     During bed baths and whirlpools.

e.) If you have a wound care specialist they may choose to utilize various essential oils in their wound
care protocols.

Who benefits from the use of essential oils in the hospice setting? 

a.) Simply put, Everyone! Patients, family and staff members…

When we create an environment where the patient is in comfort and peace, when we create an environment when the odors wafting in and around a facility are pleasant, when we create an environment where the staff benefit from the calming, sedative or uplifting, antimicrobial action of essential oils, and when we introduce a program into the hospice facility that is self sustaining as well as revenue generating, everyone benefits.

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