Providing appropriate sensory stimulation for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia has been shown in recent studies 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 for Alzheimer’s and Dementia
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.
There is at least one thing that all of our sense organs have in common. Our eyes and ears respectively turn light waves and sound waves into sensory impressions. The gustatory nerves in our taste buds and the olfactory nerves in our noses turn certain molecules into tastes and smells. The nerve endings in our skin and almost every other part of our body turn pressure and temperature into sensations we “feel”. But we don’t hear and see and taste with those nerves. It is our brain that turns environmental stimulation into sensation. Sensory stimulation is brain stimulation.
- Sight (Visual Stimulation) – Vision is our most important sense, the one through which we gain most of our information….(more)
- Hearing (Auditory Stimulation) – Our ears probably provides us with our second most vibrant source of sensory stimulation. (more)
- Smell (Olfactory Stimulation) – Some of our strongest memories, our most potent associations, are triggered by odor. (more)
- 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. (more)
- Touch (Tactile Stimulation) – Anything touched and anything that touches us can be stimulating. Every solid object has texture, temperature, shape. (more)
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. 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 plenty of 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 relies 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 are the first things one notices, but autumn has its own array of smells and sounds. The pungent aroma of decay; the spicy smell of autumn flowers that can differ 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 comprehensive activity for one who has dementia as well as for the caregiver who accompanies him. I can’t think of a better way to provide sensory stimulation for Alzheimer’s.
Any form of sensory stimulation is a part of the patient’s objective environment and contributes to that “Good Life.” 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.
DVDs are an excellent way to provide sensory stimulation for Alzheimer’s
Butterflies and Flowers is just one of the many nature DVDs that we offer in our store, 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. A variety of colorful leaves, pinecones, acorns, and other things found wherever there are trees, 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 something we experience in the present. Joy is not dependent on memory.
Use ALL your senses each day. It’s good for your body — it’s good for your mind.
Sharpen your Senses Cards concentrate on the five senses. Users imagine, reminisce, evaluate, guess, and describe their responses to each question.
Great for large or small adult groups of all ages, or for individuals seeking to improve mental fitness. Facilitator’s booklet gives suggestions and additional activities.
Sharpen Your Senses was developed by author and memory loss specialist Kristin Einberger. The boxed set includes 120 laminated 4 x 6 inch cards in six categories, instructions and facilitator’s booklet.
Our Gel-Filled Sensory Stimulation Pads are designed to calm agitation by providing visual and tactile stimulation. The glitter-filled pads come in a variety of sizes and shapes, including a weighted lap-pad that gives the user a grounded, secure feeling which increases focus and concentration which encourages attention to tasks and activities. There is also a wheelchair tray that provides a soft rest for arms and elbows and encourages exploration while discouraging wandering.
There is general agreement that sensory stimulation benefits people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It is not a treatment for the disease. It is a treatment for the patient. Experts who study the effects of sensory stimulation on people with dementia and who advocate its use in treating them emphasize patient quality of life. M Lawton, in a paper published in the Gerontologist, proposes a model for “The Good Life” for elderly people that depends on four inter-related factors:
- behavioral competence
- psychological well-being
- perceived quality of life
- objective environment
In a related study published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, Janet M. Witucki and Renee Samples Twibell reported a decrease in psychological discomfort levels in subjects who were in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Participants were fifteen residents of long-term-care facilities who engaged in three sensory stimulation activities. Recorded music that was known to be pleasing to each subject was used as auditory stimulation. Hand massage using lotion provided tactile stimulation, and the sense of smell was stimulated using odors of coffee, orange, cinnamon, chocolate and flowers, each presented individually.
Psychological discomfort was measured before and after each sensory stimulation activity using the Discomfort Scale for Dementias of the Alzheimer Type (DS-DAT), and the results compared. According to the authors of the study, “It can be concluded, however, that all three sensory stimulation activities, as presented with social
interaction, lowered DS-DAT levels to a similar extent, indicating
an increase in psychological well being of participants during the activities.”