Sensory stimulation for Alzheimer’s patients and people with other forms of dementia has been shown to decrease agitation and restlessness, as well as improve sleep. These symptoms are very common in most forms of dementia, and certainly in people with Alzheimer’s, so sensory stimulation translates as improved quality of life for the patient as well as for the caregiver.
Sensory stimulation can be thought, quite simply, to be anything that stimulates one of our five senses. It is easy to create things from objects found around the house that will provide an endless variety of stimulation to any and all of the senses. Also remember that the things that give all of us pleasure, music and visual arts, good movies, a funny joke or story, give pleasure also to people with dementia.
- Sight (Visual Stimulation) – Vision is our most important sense, the one through which we gain most of our information.
- Hearing (Auditory Stimulation) – Our ears probably provides us with our second most vibrant source of sensory stimulation.
- Smell (Olfactory Stimulation – Some of our strongest memories, our most potent associations, are triggered by odor.
- Taste (Gustatory Stimulation) – In many ways taste is the most pleasurable of our senses, depending on how much emphasis one puts on food and eating.
- Touch (Tactile Stimulation) – Anything touched and anything that touches us can be stimulating. Every solid object has texture, temperature, shape.
We use our nervous system in two other ways to gather information about our environment.
- Proprioceptive Stimulation is closely related to tactile stimulation, and is otherwise a little hard to define. Basically it is the sensory feedback that informs us where the parts of our body are and how they are moving. So, a stroll through the forest on a beautiful autumn day would not only involve visual, auditory, and olfactory stimulation, but also proprioceptive stimulation
- Vestibular Stimulation, which is related to and dependent on the proprioceptive system. The vestibular system is what gives us balance, allows us to stand and move through space without falling over. It is dependent on feedback from the visual, auditory, and tactile systems.
A Whole World
Very few activities stimulate only one sense or sense organ; few are beneficial in only a singular way. A walk in the woods in the fall when the leaves are changing can be a magnificent visual experience. The variety and the vibrancy of the colors is the first thing one notices, but autumn has its own array of smells and sounds. The pungent aroma of decay; the spicy smell of autumn flowers which differs from the sweeter smell of spring blossoms; leaves crunching under foot; flocks of geese honking as they begin their migration south. Add to that the exercise and the fresh air and you have a fairly complete activity for one suffering from dementia as well as for the caregiver who accompanies him.
A walk in the woods or a stroll through a flower-filled meadow may not be a viable option. If you live in the city or the person or people in your care are not adequately mobile, as would be the case in the later stages of the disease, consider a virtual exploration.
Butterflies and Flowers is just one of the many nature DVDs that are offered at Best Alzheimer’s Products, all of which will transport the viewer to another time and place. Add some other relevant objects for a comprehensive sensory experience. Have blossoms in the room to accompany the Butterflies and Flowers DVD mentioned above. A variety of colorful leaves, pine cones, acorns, and other things found wherever there are trees can, would make good companion pieces to Through the Forest or California Redwoods. Seashells, natural sponges and dried starfish in a box of sand will nicely compliment a viewing of Underwater Wonders or Ocean Serenity.
Not every activity need be as extravagant. Create an environment of sights, smells, and sounds in your patient’s living environment. Paintings and other pictures on the wall, a wind chime outside the window, a bouquet of flowers for its color as well as its fragrance, music on the radio; decorate as you would for anyone’s enjoyment. Always keep in mind that enjoyment is experienced in the present. Joy is not dependent on memory.