A practice since the 1960’s, sensory activities were originally designed to help people with learning disabilities. In dementia care, sensory activities can work to soothe anxiety or stress, making it easier for individuals to listen and concentrate.
Ways Sensory Stimulation Can Affect Alzheimer’s
As Alzheimer’s progresses, a persons’ ability to communicate and perform everyday activities declines. Providing a new form of expression can help individuals feel safe and relax, and help improve mood and well-being. Additionally, by drawing attention to a particular item, sensory stimulation encourages memories and responses.
For example; art can trigger emotions and memories for people who no longer speak. A person who has trouble expressing themselves might suddenly smile or want to pick up a pencil and draw. That art form can potentially become a means for the person to communicate, either through personal works of art or simply by reacting to the visual stimuli.
Everyday Sensory Cues
Sensory stimulation works best when it uses familiar objects and focuses on one sense at a time. Good sensory cues include:
- Familiar, odorous foods
- Natural materials, such as flowers
- Sensory-rich materials, such as clothing and sensory blankets
Sensory Stimulation Activities
Activities involved in sensory stimulation are often linked to interests the person had prior to dementia, and can help build a connection to everyday life. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, sensory stimulation activities might include:
- Bringing in objects the person does not normally have around, such as sand, seashells or other items
- Giving a hand massage
- Taking a short walk
- Talking and reading aloud to the person
- Providing a change of scenery by taking a trip outdoors
Depending on how the person reacts, the carer might alter the activity to find the stimuli that is going to inspire a positive response.
Sensory stimulation is intended to bring enjoyment to people with the disease, reduce their anxiety and depression, and increase their social interaction. Those shared experiences and memories can help bring people back to a time that they remember fondly, which can help them feel meaningful and connected again.