Background Aromatherapy and hand massage therapies have been reported to have some benefit for people with dementia who display behavioural symptoms; however there are a number of limitations of reported studies. The aim is to investigate the effect of aromatherapy (3% lavender oil spray) with and without hand massage on disruptive behaviour in people with dementia living in long-term care. Methods In a single blinded randomised controlled trial 67 people with a diagnosis of dementia and a history of disruptive behaviour, from three long-term care facilities were recruited and randomised using a random number table into three groups: (1) Combition (aromatherapy and hand massage) (n?=?22), (2) Aromatherapy (n?=?23), (3) Placebo control (water spray) (n?=?22). The intervention was given twice daily for six weeks. Data on residents' behaviour (CMAI) and cognition (MMSE) were collected before, during and after the intervention. Results Despite a downward trend in behaviours displayed not one of the interventions significantly reduced disruptive behaviour. Conclusions Further large-scale placebo controlled studies are required where antipsychotic medication is controlled and a comparison of the methods of application of aromatherapy are investigated.