What is Sensory Stimulation?
Sensory stimulation activates different senses – auditory (hearing), tactile (touching), visual (seeing), olfactory (smelling), and gustatory (tasting). Because the brain responds to different types of stimulation, using sensory activities for dementia patients can play an important part. Research has shown that sensory stimulation is linked to immediate positive effects on the mood and behaviours of people with dementia.
Multi-Sensory Stimulation for Dementia
There are a number of multi-sensory activities and creative support tools for dementia patients that you can use at home:
Sounds including music, white noise, and natural sound effects such as waterfalls and birdsong have been said to enhance the mood and have relaxing properties for people with dementia. Familiar music, singing, calming poetry, natural sounds and white noise can help trigger memories and be comforting for people going through conditions associated with memory loss. It is important to remember to enjoy these sounds at a controlled volume as loud sounds can be frustrating and agitating to people with dementia.
Living with dementia can be an isolating and scary experience. Tactile stimulation can help alleviate anxiety and has mood enhancing effects. Try a gentle hand massage or stroking calm and friendly pets. Or you could introduce different textures such as sandpaper, pine cones, or a virtual beach.
Visual stimulation can help improve sleep cycles and cognition, which is really beneficial for people with dementia who might have interrupted sleep and wander in the night. Some visual stimulation activities include light therapy, nostalgic and calming movies, or redecorating the room with soothing colours.
If you’ve ever had a memory triggered by a familiar scent, you’ll understand that smells can activate grounded memories through reminiscence. Fragrances can be so powerful for people with dementia and open a gateway for memories to resurface. Diffusing essential oils such as lavender, peppermint, rosemary and bergamot can be one way to simultaneously relax and trigger memories. Fresh flowers can also help by being a visual reminder as well as bringing back memories through their scent. You could try using food smells, like coffee and freshly baked bread, or even try the ‘Guess the Scent’ game, although being mindful to stop if it becomes frustrating or upsetting.
Similarly to olfactory triggers, flavours can help people with dementia to reminisce. Although there is no concrete evidence suggesting that foods like turmeric can alleviate signs of dementia, distinctive flavours such as spices can be used to trigger memories. Other flavours to try include berries, coconut, and different teas. Again, you could try ‘Guess the Flavour’ as a game!
Sensory Activities for Dementia Patients
Sensory activities for dementia patients can help provide structure and designated time to focus on sensory therapy. Here are some of the tools and activities we recommend:
The Sensory Cart is a portable unit complete with everything you need to provide sensory therapy whether in a care home, hospital, hospice or at home. The kit can be used for relaxation or reminiscence and includes:
- Inbuilt DVD player and screen for visual stimulation
- Calming LED bubble tube for visual stimulation and relaxation
- Fibre Optic Sideglow, for both tactile and visual stimulation
- Aurora Projector with liquid wheel, which projects onto the wall, floor, or ceiling perfect for visual stimulation wherever you are
- Bluetooth amplifier and speakers with gesture control, allowing for auditory stimulation
Many items from the Sensory Cart are also available to purchase separately. For more information on how sensory cart technology can help people with dementia, please read our informative blog post.
Sensory Rooms for Dementia
An immersive multi-sensory experience can stimulate mood changes, cognition and overall wellbeing for people with dementia. Sensory rooms are designed specifically for relaxation and reminiscence, covering many types of sensory therapy including:
- Visual, through bubble tubes, bubble walls, projectors, and fibreoptics
- Tactile, though fibreoptics
- Auditory, through docking stations and speakers
For more information on our sensory rooms, read our blog post on the benefits of sensory rooms.