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Dementia: Understanding the Importance of Senior Sensory Stimulation

The five senses of smell, taste, hearing, seeing, and touching are how we experience the world. While our senses help us navigate our surroundings, we sometimes take them for granted. However, as we age, our senses slowly deteriorate and shift, making it even more essential to find stimulating activities to enjoy.

Senior sensory stimulation is one of the best ways to use creative activities to spark positive memories and happy thoughts by engaging seniors with their surroundings. The importance of senior sensory stimulation is particularly monumental for people with dementia who need to find ways to communicate and feel at ease with their environment.

While there are several types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, they all can have an accelerated impact on the senses. Since dementia affects the entire brain, not only will memory, thinking, and problem-solving change, but there is a high likelihood that the five senses will also gradually deteriorate.

Loss of sense and critical thinking skills can be perilous for vulnerable adults in several ways:

  • Smell: Without a strong sense of smell, they may not smell smoke or gas

  • Taste: A lack of taste could lead to eating spoiled food or inedible objects

  • Sound: Hearing loss means a loved one won’t hear the doorbell, phone, or TV

  • Sight: Diminished eyesight increases the chance of trips and falls

  • Touch: Touch is vital for discerning hot surfaces and reducing feelings of isolation

Even though these senses may deteriorate over time, there are still ways to positively spark them to boost positivity and improve overall quality of life for people with memory loss.

Spark the Senses

Simple everyday items such as family photo albums, favorite food dishes, or music can help aging loved ones express themselves and feel at ease.

1. Stimulating Smells

The human olfactory system has a strong recall which is why certain scents spark specific memories. For this reason, using strong smells can aid in reconnecting an individual to particular occasions from the past. One way to try this out is by using aromatherapy and essential oils.

Essential oils like lavender and citrus can help alleviate stress with their calming effects. Peppermint is great for stimulating the brain and aiding in nausea. An easy way to provide scent therapy is by adding an oil diffuser to the room. Spraying once-loved perfumes is another great option.

2. Trigger Taste Memory

Cooking beloved food dishes can help seniors recall treasured moments from their past. Maybe eating a bowl of chili will help a senior recall a fun family recipe they would make with their parents. Or, perhaps a specific flavor of hard candy will take them back to their carefree childhood.

There are many ways to help your aging loved one, both with taste memory and trying new flavors. Spices and unique flavor combinations could be a delightful way for them to enjoy their surroundings.

3. Pique Their Interest Through Sound

While many older adults may have a hard time hearing, they can still benefit from modified, stimulated hearing exercises. Familiar and natural sound therapy is a wonderful way to induce cognition and relaxation, and there are so many ways to do so with modern technology.

Try playing popular songs from their youth, classical music, or nature sounds throughout the day. The best part is that you can also overlap this with other positive sensory experiences. Just be mindful not to overload seniors with too many sensations at once.

4. Try Revitalizing Vision Therapy

For seniors living with dementia, certain visual processes can be negatively affected. Therefore, incorporating vision therapy may successfully aid in stimulating their sight. This part doesn’t need to be anything big; simply share photo albums, watch favorite movies, and look at happy videos. You can help lift a senior’s spirit with these small activities.

Another great way to use vision therapy is through light. It’s common for aging adults to experience sleep disturbances. Since people with dementia can also have insomnia, studies show bright light therapy can help treat sleep disturbances and impaired circadian rhythms.

While light therapy has had positive results in treating insomnia, treating secondary factors and ailments could also help them get a better night’s sleep.

5. Encourage Tactile Stimulation

Think back to the last time you felt a soft texture like velvet or pet a scruffy dog. Those different textures stimulated your brain with positive feelings. Dulled tactile senses need more stimulus. For those suffering from dementia, this can potentially be hazardous, especially in identifying hot surfaces. Furthermore, it can feel isolating to those individuals.

A great way to help is by offering engaging activities with different textures to fascinate and provoke a positive response. Try grabbing nature items like pinecones, seashells, sunflower seeds, and sand to trigger different feelings.

Benefits of Sensory Stimulation

  • Connecting with others

  • Relaxation and stress relief

  • Recalling positive memories

  • Staying active in old age

  • Finding creative ways to express needs

  • Helping to treat sleep insomnia

For those in need of memory care assistance, working with a caring team is essential. At Mitchell Hollingsworth, our dedicated staff is trained to aid in empathizing and understanding all the aspects of cognitive care. All of our activities are held within a safe and secure environment, ensuring that residents can live life with purpose with our supervised guidance.



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