Our five senses connect our minds with the world that surrounds us. Many people begin to experience difficulties with their senses as they age. If an individual with Alzheimer’s or a related disorder begins to lose some of these senses, the confusion that he or she is already experiencing may worsen. Even when an individual has difficulty making sense of complex sensory stimuli, a pleasant sensation can still provide enjoyment and an unpleasant one can evoke a feeling of disgust. There are numerous positive effects related to stimulating the senses of an individual who has dementia. Sensory stimulation has no boundaries, which is why caregivers are creating sensory rooms for seniors.
Sensory stimulation allows us to engage with our environment, communicate in numerous and complex ways, and experience unparalleled situations. We are bombarded with sensory stimulation continuously; however, individuals who have Alzheimer’s or a related condition may not experience enough sensory stimulation.
The Benefits of Sensory Stimulation
The benefits of sensory stimulation for individuals who have dementia has received a considerable amount of attention. These benefits include an improved concept of self, an increase in the desire to socialize and ability to concentrate as well as increased awareness.
The Goal is to Gently Stimulate All of the Senses
A sensory stimulation environment should have opportunities to stimulate as many of the senses as possible; however, caregivers need to be careful to avoid unsuitable stimulation as this could lead to anxiety. By helping an individual get in touch with all of his or her senses, memories related to each sense will arise.
Looking at something that triggers memories or offers beauty is always pleasing, which is why visual stimulation is included in a sensory room.
A successful sensory room may include:
- Fun, bright colors
- Color changing lamps
- Soft colors
- Television shows that consist of lovely scenery, lights or animals
- Color drops liquid timers
Many times, memories are triggered by a picture, as opposed to words alone. Caregivers may use pictures of places that the individual has visited or lived as well as photos of family members.
When it comes to connecting with the past scents are very meaningful; thus, our sense of smell can successfully bring memories back. Scents can evoke numerous emotions: They can be strong, pleasant, comforting or relaxing.
A senior sensory room may include:
An aroma diffuser with essential oils. When using a diffuser, an individual can choose from a variety of essential oils.
- Essential oil scents include:
- Other distinct odors:
- The smell of coffee brewing
- Bread baking
- Buttermilk pancakes cooking
- Bacon frying
Listening to sounds allows us to get in touch with all of our senses. While many seniors do have hearing impairments, stimulating this sense remains essential; nonetheless, modifications may be necessary.
Tips for incorporating sound into a senior sensory room:
Listening to nature, music, singing or a poet can be very enjoyable; however, what is enjoyable to one may be aggravating for another. Caregivers should ask the senior what he or she would like to listen to. Furthermore, keeping the noise level under control is extremely important because too much noise can cause an individual to feel anxious.
A meaningful touch may be an important communication tool for people who have dementia. A handshake, hug or holding hands cause an unparalleled emotional response. Even incorporating basic touching, such as a touch on the arm or shoulder is helpful.
There are several ways that a caregiver can incorporate touch into the room, these include:
- Fixing his or her hair
- Giving him or her a manicure/pedicure
- Gently massaging his or her hand
- Place objects or various pieces of materials in a bag and have individuals identify the objects before pulling them out of the bag
- Provide the individual with a sponge, sand or clay. He or she can use these objects to strengthen the hands
Another great way to reminisce is with food. Share foods or meals that remind the individual of his or her childhood. Keep a variety of salty, sweet and sour foods on hand.
Old fashioned desserts may reawaken lost memories, these desserts include:
- Rice pudding
- Brown Betty
Ask Family Members for Personal Items
Ask the patient’s family to help you create a trinket box or sensory box that is filled with personal items.
Ask family members to provide items that are dear to the individual, for example:
- A favorite book
- Old driver’s license
- A holiday photo
While most of the information provided here is intended for individuals who still have some kind of verbal communication skills, these activities can be useful for individuals who are experiencing the more advanced symptoms of Alzheimer’s and similar conditions.