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Group of older adults playing a game of monopoly. Board games make for great sensory activities for adults with dementia.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be enormously rewarding. But it can also be challenging — especially when it comes to keeping your loved one engaged and active day to day.  

Having a few go-to sensory activities to engage in with your loved one can help. This list of sensory activities for adults with dementia can provide you with some new ways to engage you loved one’s senses of touch, sound, taste, sight and smell. 

But first, why are sensory activities important? Because they encourage engagement through learning, exploration, and creativity. And that goes for people of all ages. Sensory stimulation can help seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia interact with their surroundings in more meaningful ways. What’s more, studies have shown that when applied consistently, sensory activities do more than just entertain — they’re actually very helpful in treating memory issues. In short, older adults who actively engage all five senses on a regular basis may see some improvement in their cognitive abilities, sometimes retaining more information or recalling distant memories. 

Sensory activites can also stimulatepositive thoughts and improve the mood and energy levels of adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The Benefits of Sensory Activities

Sensory activities for adults with dementia are especially helpful when they’re tailored to the specific personality and interests of the participant. Suppose your loved one was a talented musician before their cognitive health started to decline. An activity revolving around music and sound might help them tap into the feelings of joy they experienced when music was a big part of their life

Additional benefits include:

  • Greater senses of relaxation and safety
  • Increased levels of concentration
  • Boosted cognitive function
  • Improved mood, self-esteem , and overall well-being
  • Increased feelings of connection and acceptance
  • Improved communication

Easy Sensory Activities

Most sensory activitiesare simple and require minimal prep work. Plus, they can usually be done with everyday objects. 

Take a look around, and you’ll find that a great number of simple objects carry significant meaning and provide powerful levels of sensory input. Family photos, candles, books and foods all trigger different feelings and memories. With a little bit of structure and some encouraging support from you, your loved one is likely to enjoy all of the following easy sensory activities:

  1. Bake Something Tasty

Baking is a great way to engage several senses simultaneously (taste, smell, and touch). Start simple and bake something likely to bring back fond memories. It’s an activity best shared with older adults in the earlier stages of dementia as it requires a good amount of interaction and responsibility.

Here’s how those senses and memories are triggered:

  • Discussing old favorites and what makes them so delicious 
  • Thumbing through recipes to find the best option
  • Using hands to measure, mix, knead, and roll
  • Smelling the ingredients
  • Tasting the results
  • Sharing any memories that might pop up
  1. Watching Movies

This is a straightforward sensory activity for adults with dementia that requires minimal effort from you or your loved one. Pick an old classic — a movie from a time before your loved one’s health started to decline — and spend an afternoon enjoying the film together. It’s an easy way to share a laugh or cry and talk about any emotions or memories it might conjure.

  1. Diffuse Essential Oils

Our sense of smell is incredibly powerful. Research has shown that fragrances have significant and measurable effects on stress, depression, happiness, and relaxation. You’ve probably experienced this yourself when you caught wind of a particular scent — like freshly cut grass, cookies right out of the oven, or peppermint in winter.  

That’s why essential oils are such popular (and effective) tools when it comes to treating and caring for adults with dementia; aromatherapy can help patients connect with memories that may have been lost.

  1. Play Games and Build Puzzles 

Board games and puzzles are great stimulation activities that engage the mind and senses — and they’re fun too, particularly if others get involved. The best part is that your options are virtually limitless, including countless games and puzzles with varying skill levels. You can even create your own game if you’re feeling adventurous, like “Name That Scent” or “Taste Memory.” 

  1. Create a Work of Art

Self-expression is critical for anyone at any age, but it is particularly important for older adults who might be losing verbal control or their ability to maintain conversation. Art is a fun, creative way to empower your loved one to express themselves in new and exciting ways. It engages the senses of touch and sight while boosting mood and overall well-being. Finger painting, coloring, doodling and sculpting with clay are all great forms of art therapy. 

Want to learn more about how we use touch and sensory stimulation to help our residents? Click here.

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