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Benefits of Sensory Stimulation For Dementia

February 28, 2023Neelem Sheikh

As a caregiver for someone living with dementia, it can be disheartening to feel like the deep connection you once shared is slowly slipping away. As dementia progresses and cognitive and behavioral changes become more severe, you may find it more challenging to communicate and engage with your loved one. 

Finding activities that stimulate their senses and encourage social engagement can improve communication and help caregivers ensure their loved ones continue living full, enriching lives.

This article will discuss sensory stimulation for dementia, its potential benefits, and examples of sensory stimulation activities you can do with your loved one.

Understanding Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia is a general term that describes a decline in cognitive abilities that is severe enough to interfere with an individual’s ability to complete basic day-to-day activities. Throughout the disease course, Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, causes damage to a wide range of brain regions and, consequently, a wide range of brain functions.

In the later stages, people living with dementia often experience problems with speech and language, which can lead to difficulty communicating their desires or needs. Other cognitive changes, such as issues with visualizing and interpreting their surroundings, can further disconnect them from the world around them. These changes can leave your loved one feeling confused, frustrated, and isolated.

Your loved one may experience their environment primarily through their senses, meaning there are still many ways for you to connect, communicate, and engage with your loved one in a meaningful way. 

What Is Sensory Stimulation for Dementia?

Sensory stimulation for dementia is among several therapy-based interventions aimed at improving quality of life and mood and alleviating behavioral symptoms in people living with dementia. Sensory stimulation refers to any event or object that is received by the senses and elicits a response from a person. 

The stimulus (event or object) can come in many forms, such as sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste. Sensory stimulation for dementia can be as simple as listening to a favorite song from your loved one’s youth or as complex as providing a sensory experience using virtual reality technology.

Sensory stimulation can offer physical and emotional comfort to those living with dementia by allowing them to live in the moment and interact with their immediate surroundings. 

Potential Benefits of Sensory Stimulation for Dementia

Along with providing you and your loved one with new, fun ways to connect and engage with one another, research suggests that sensory stimulation may offer the following benefits to people living with dementia:

  • Enhanced verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Improved quality of life
  • Improved behaviors
  • Improved daily functioning

Sensory Stimulation Activities for Dementia 

When looking to incorporate sensory stimulation for your loved one, it is important to choose activities that are enjoyable, sustainable, and tailored to their abilities. Understanding their abilities and unique interests can help you choose fun yet appropriate and safe activities. Try to draw inspiration from their past experiences. You may consider their former hobbies, lifestyle, recreational activities, social interests, work history, and travel experience. 

Music therapy, for example, can be a powerful, calming, and reminiscent experience for your loved one. Musical memories are often preserved in those with Alzheimer’s disease, as the key brain regions linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged. If they are able to, allow them to choose the music themselves. If not, select music that will be both familiar and enjoyable for your loved one, such as songs that were popular during their youth (between 18 and 25 years of age).

Other examples of sensory stimulation for dementia include:

  • Making them their favorite meal or snack.
  • Sitting outside together, allowing them to enjoy the sounds and sensations of nature.
  • Giving them a gentle massage with their favorite scented lotion.
  • Brushing their hair or giving them a head massage.
  • Looking through an old photo album together.
  • Giving them a textured or interactive object to fiddle with.

At the end of the day, what matters is that you choose an activity that provides your loved one with comfort, joy, and meaning.

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