Sensory stimulation enables people to be in the moment and engage with what is around them, as well as communicate in different ways. It is the involvement of one or more of the senses like smell, sight, taste, touch, and hearing.
The benefits of sensory stimulation include:
Increased levels of concentration
Improvement of daily function and cognitive symptoms
Participation in social activities with others
Improvement in communication through several different ways
Reminiscing about past experiences and revisiting memories
Most people are faced with multiple sensory stimulation throughout the day - think of situations like cooking, walking down the street, driving, swimming - in all kinds of situations at home or on the street. However for elderly people this isn’t always the case, especially those living with dementia.
Sensory stimulation can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially when there are already present feelings of confusion, isolation, and fear. But sensory stimulation is key to improving quality of life for those living in the confusing world of dementia - so we have come up with a few ideas on what you can do with you clients. Remember that individuals will have different tastes and likes so make sure you cater your activities to your client.
Sensory Stimulation with Touch
Massaging hands and feet with aromatherapy oils - this is both relaxing and comforting when using oils which help relieve stress and calm the body.
Have a pamper session: brush hair, tidy nails, and try out homemade face masks. The ladies will love this - and encourage male clients to try it out too!
Create a ‘Sensory Box’: this is a box filled with sentimental items like holiday photos, trinkets, jewellery, perfume, fabric pieces, and anything else you client holds dear. Ask their family to help with creating this box so there are a few unexpected items to find.
If possible, do a day trip out to the local pool - find out if your leisure centre has a spa section which is suitable for the elderly and those with health complications. Make sure you pick a time when the pool is relatively quiet without children or families not to overwhelm the senses - you can usually find a pool timetable on the leisure centre website.
Take time to spend with pets - you can read our full article on pets and the elderly here.
Spend time in the sun, the best times are between 9-10:30am when the rays aren’t as strong. Remember to use sunscreen and hats to protect from UV rays!
Sensory Stimulation With Sounds
You can buy tapes of sounds like nature, rain, waves; or podcasts with poems, hymns, and songs and help your clients enjoy the different sounds by getting them to close their eyes and remember situations.
Introduce different experiences with instruments in genres like classic and country music (but remember not to turn it up too loud!)
Play videos of your clients favourite retro singers like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly - ask your client to tell you about their memories whilst listening to the songs.
Try tongue twisters - this is a fun way to connect with your client and challenge both of you!
Sensory Stimulation With Smell
Create sensory gardens with flowers - go for fragrant varieties like lavender, jasmine, violet, wisteria, gardenia, roses. Plant these flowers in pots of different sizes and colours, and place them around the garden or on balconies. You can both enjoy these gardens when the sun is out! Gardening has many benefits.
Food smells can help memories come back: try baking bread, brewing coffee, frying fish, baking cakes. All of these delicious scents may help bring back precious memories, and are fun to do together.
Play ‘Guess The Scent” games by making small bags of dried spices like lavender, basil, cinnamon, cloves, thyme, rosemary, orange peels, and coffee granules.
Play around with aromatherapy: you can buy an oil burner or a vaporiser for the house and use scents like lavender, peppermint, rosemary, bergamot, lemon balm, ylang ylang, and ginger are all known to help those with dementia.
Sensory Stimulation With Sight
Decorate the home with colourful flowers and foliage - these aren’t just pleasant to look at, but will help with the air in the house and the scent.
Use calming colours like green, blue, and light pink to create ‘calm’ spaces for your client to relax in.
Plan a day trip to your local garden centre to have a look at the flowers and plants, water features, and home decorations. Take some time to have a light lunch!
Watch a nature programme together, like one from David Attenborough - but make sure to review the programme first as some documentaries may contain disturbing footage.
Those individuals who are confined to their beds may want to have a colourful mobile or feature in the room - try adding sounds and scents into the mix so they can have a full sensory experience without having to wonder far.
Sensory Stimulation With Taste
Have a baking day and bake your clients favourite dessert - bread and butter pudding, apple pie, Victoria sponge, banoffee pie, bake well tart, amongst many others!
Facilitate a dinner party and ask friends or relatives to each bring their favourite dish to the table - this will introduce new tastes, scents, and experiences as well as getting together a fun social group for your client to enjoy.