Sensory stimulation for Alzheimer’s patients is gaining popularity among medical practitioners and caregivers as a beneficial therapy option. This growing awareness makes sense considering the extraordinary powers of the five senses and the way in which they allow us to experience life in different ways.
Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for people to experience decreased sensation or the loss of a sense altogether. Examples include the loss of sight, hearing or even taste, and this loss can be present at birth or develop later in life. Those who suffer from diminishing senses or loss of a sense altogether must adapt and change the way they might interact with their environment.
One important way many people adapt is “growing” stronger senses to help make up for the one that is diminished or lost. Doing so helps people form a complete understanding of their environment.
Diminishing senses later in life can be a particular struggle for those living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia given the definitive link between the brain and sensory processing. With that decline comes some frustrating challenges:
- Difficulty navigating surroundings
- A harder time judging distances
- Challenges with holding conversations
- A reduced ability to enjoy daily activities
The result can often be increased anxiety, depression and isolation.
Fortunately, sensory stimulation exercises can help create neural pathways in the brain that help older adults complete more complex tasks and engage with others at a higher level. These activities can also help on an emotional level, and the effects can be profound.
The Benefits of Sensory Stimulation for Alzheimer’s
Sensory stimulation is beneficial for all human beings — from birth well into adulthood, encouraging people of all ages to engage with their environment in a way that helps form deep connections and improve cognitive abilities.
For older adults with Alzheimer’s, sensory stimulation activities include any activity that engages their senses of touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. Think nature walks, baking, sorting exercises and aromatherapy.
The benefits of these stimulation activities are numerous. A 2018 study concluded that sensory stimulation (in combination with memory stimulation) improved communication. Another study, published in 2002, concluded that aromatherapy and bright light therapy are safe ways to address psychiatric issues for older adults with dementia. Here’s a closer look at additional benefits that can result from sensory stimulation:
The anxiousness that accompanies cognitive decline is often heightened when older adults can’t interact with their surroundings in the same way they used to. Sensory activities can be calming for easily agitated people since many activities — like hand massages and music therapy — encourage relaxation. A relaxed mind is a less distracted mind.
Social isolation and loneliness are serious health concerns for older adults living with Alzheimer’s and, if left untreated, can dramatically affect their overall quality of life.
That’s why the power of connection can’t be understated. Seniors who have regular contact with their friends and family are generally healthier and happier, exhibiting less anxiety and a more positive outlook on life. Sensory stimulation activities open critical lines of communication through various means and activities.
Socializing is one of the most effective ways for older adults to improve their mental health, decreasing the sense of isolation and loneliness that often come with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Person-to-person contact triggers parts of the nervous system that produce “happy chemicals” like dopamine that help humans better manage stress and anxiety. Socialization builds trust, increases environmental awareness and reduces cortisol. A great number of sensory stimulation exercises encourage various levels of socialization and interaction: playing board games, dancing, singing and cooking are all engaging in their own ways.
Memories are powerful tools in their own right, and accessing the right echoes of the past can do wonders for older adults. Fortunately, sensory stimulation and memory care go hand-in-hand. Thumbing through old photographs or reminiscing through stories and art are all great ways to improve quality of life while also preserving family history.
At the Moments, we incorporate practice of sensory stimulation into nearly everything we do, and our residents feel more relaxed, secure and connected as a result.
Learn more about our sensory stimulation activities for Alzheimer’s patients!