What is Sensory Stimulation for Dementia?
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What is Sensory Stimulation for Dementia?

If you are the primary caregiver for someone with dementia, you’re likely eager to find ways to bring more joy into that person’s life. You probably also want to support their physical, mental, and emotional health. Sensory stimulation is a useful method in all of these cases.

There are many easy everyday ways to give your loved one with dementia sensory stimulation, and at Town Square Perry Hall, we incorporate effective sensory activities into our overall program of vibrant, therapeutic adult day enrichment in the Baltimore area. Contact us today to learn more, or read further to find out more about the benefits of sensory stimulation for people who have Alzheimer’s disease or another cognitive health condition.

Understanding Sensory Stimulation

Lessened acuity of the senses is a part of the physical effects of normal aging and not necessarily a sign of a cognitive health problem. However, people with dementia are especially at risk for more severe forms of sensory symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can affect all of the senses, which is a major issue in the quality of life of people with cognitive conditions. 

Any of the types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s dementia, Lewy body dementia, and vascular dementia, can damage the brain in a way that affects the senses. This may manifest as disorientation, challenges with spatial awareness, and difficulties with depth perception, as well as hearing loss and auditory hallucinations.

Sensory stimulation addresses these symptoms by exercising the senses to keep them as sharp as possible, as well as providing sensory experiences that are soothing or inspire curiosity and engagement.

Sometimes referred to as multi-sensory stimulation or MSS, sensory stimulation calls on all five senses, sometimes on their own and sometimes in combination:

  • Visual (sight)
  • Auditory (hearing)
  • Tactile (touch)
  • Olfactory (smell)
  • Gustatory (taste)

Sometimes movement is added as a sixth sense (proprioception, or the sense of where one’s body is in space). For people with limited movement, virtual environments are often successful to recreate experiences that would be difficult to access in real life.

Sensory stimulation offers many benefits, including:

  • Increased awareness and attention
  • Improved mood
  • Improved cognition and recall
  • Greater engagement with others
  • Greater quality of life
  • Easier transition from one program to another as dementia progresses

Implementing Sensory Stimulation in Caregiving

At the most basic levels, it’s easy to integrate sensory stimulation into your daily care routine for a loved one with dementia. The best way to do this is to tailor stimuli and activities to the individual’s tastes, interests, and abilities. It should never feel forced or cause frustration.

For example, if your loved one used to listen to Beethoven frequently, they would probably still like to have the classical station playing on the radio. You may need to turn the volume down, though, so as not to make the experience too overwhelming.

Keep sensory activities short at the start until you see how well they are received. Be ready to change to a different activity if you think that might be more welcome. You can also combine complementary stimuli, such as listening to ocean sounds while holding seashells or smooth rocks, to enhance the experience.

Above all, sensory stimulation should be a safe and positive experience. If you notice any signs of discomfort from your loved one, it’s best to take a break. Furthermore, if you’ve observed any sensory stimuli that trigger a negative reaction, simply refrain from using them in the future.

Sensory Stimulation Activities for Dementia

Other ways to add auditory stimulation at home include listening to bird sounds, either in your backyard or using a sound machine. The sound of rain, waterfalls, fountains, and ocean waves, all of which are common sound machine settings or can be found as audio tracks online, are also usually perceived as calming.

Giving your loved one with dementia something to hold and explore with the fingertips is often helpful. Items like the following are easy to keep around the house:

  • Seashells
  • Pine cones
  • Feathers
  • Bottles of sand
  • Stuffed animals

Smell is a powerful sense, and it can frequently help trigger memories. Olfactory stimulation may come in the form of essential oils to sniff on a piece of cardstock, like lavender for calming or peppermint for stimulation. 

A favorite food can also stimulate the senses of smell and taste. Something as basic as a ripe strawberry or slice of orange is often best.

Visually, having photographs of familiar people and places around the home is ideal to stimulate sight and memory. Some people with dementia enjoy different colors, which you can create with portable LED lamps that change hue with a click of your mobile phone. 

Watching television and films can become tricky if an individual can’t follow the plot, even with something they’ve seen many times before. They may become frustrated and disinterested because of this. Sometimes they’ll nod off in the middle of a show. An alternative is to shift to immersive programming, which you can find on various streaming platforms (sometimes called “slow TV”). These videos usually have little to no dialogue and show a journey such as a walk through a park in springtime, a ride on a train through the Alps, or the view from a beach at sunset.

Studies also show that sensory stimulation combined with reminiscence therapy can have a powerful positive effect on people with dementia.  At Town Square Perry Hall, your family member with dementia can enjoy sensory stimulation and reminiscence therapy through our innovative program. Our adult day services take place in a location that replicates a classic American town, with our activity areas simulating a diner, movie theater, old-time auto service station, and much more.

Our members have seen a wide range of benefits, including improved sleep, increased socialization, and just more happiness overall. Our highly trained team makes sure every day at Town Square is full of social connection, laughter, remembrance, learning, and fun, and our expertise gives primary caregivers the peace of mind they need to take care of other responsibilities or simply rest during weekdays. 

Contact us today to set up a tour of our location for you and your loved one and find out what makes us the best senior day facility in the Chesapeake Bay region.