Touch and be touched

Tactile Stimulation – Anything touched and anything that touches us can be stimulating. Every solid object has texture, temperature, shape. Balls in a collection can be smooth or rough, hard or soft, furry or...not. The sense of touch also includes the differentiation and recognition of temperature, pain, and body position (proprioception).

Passive Tactile Stimulation

Almost anyone can give a massage; maybe not like a trained professional, but good enough to make a difference. And massage need not be whole body; a hand or foot massage can be exhilarating, a neck and upper back massage relaxing.

If you have ever had a professional massage, the therapist probably used a massage oil. (If you haven't, we highly recommend it) The oil provides lubrication, necessary for the treatment, but it is or can be scented. This adds another dimension to the massage: aroma therapy. For example, lavender oil and Melissa oil (lemon balm) both have beneficial effects for people with Alzheimer's disease.

Active Tactile Stimulation

The list of things we can use to provide tactile stimulation for people with Alzheimer's is almost endless. Any "thing," any object in our world can be touched, within limits. On a walk in the woods we find the bark is different on each tree. Some, like the shagbark hickory is very rough, others much smoother, especially the bark of younger plants. All have a definite and noticeable texture.

Texture is not the only property that provides tactile stimulation. Temperature is also differentiated using the sense of touch. Wet or dry is a tactile dichotomy. Sticky is a tactile discrimination.

Activity Ideas for Tactile Stimulation for Alzheimer's Patients

  • Virtual Environments – Most of us can't take our Alzheimer's patients walking in the forest. Even if we can sometimes, to do it as a daily or even a weekly therapy is not feasible. But we can bring part of the forest to the patient. A piece of bark has the same tactile characteristics whether it's on the tree or not. A piece of moss growing in a pot can't be walked on, but its softness can be appreciated. In the spring and summer leaves are green and soft and supple. Later they become more brittle, and will eventually crumble in the hand. Add pinecones and acorns. Both come in many shapes and sizes: all are very textured.
            It is also easy to create a virtual beach or seashore. Pour an inch or two of sand in the bottom of a shallow box. On top of that put seashells and stones, dried starfish, some dried kelp or seaweed, or anything else you might find at the beach. Then allow your patient to explore with her hands. To complete the illusion, play an appropriate video or audio soundtrack in the background. So she can hear or see waves crashing, gulls being noisy....
            Do you use a similar activity or have your own collection of tactile objects? We would be delighted to hear from you! Send us your ideas and we'll publish them on the site so others can benefit.

  • Balls are made in a great variety of textures and sizes. Many are squeezable. Others light up or make noise when bounced. A collection of them can provide a stimulating exploration. Or if you are inclined, make a collection of beanbags with different fabric coverings; e.g., satin, corduroy, fake fur, denim, etc.

  • Start a collection of objects that can provide tactile stimulation. Objects to include in this collection can be found almost everywhere, but know your patient. Some people in later stages of AD put things in their mouths, like children. Watch them, or keep smaller, bite-sized objects out of your collection.
    • Sandpaper – comes in a broad variety of "grits"
    • Small carpet and fabric samples
    • Pinecones, acorns, and other things found outdoors
    • Peach pits, gourds, avocado, orange, kiwi, and other textured food items
    • Pieces of ceramic and stone tile (make sure there are no sharp edges)


All of the Twiddle Muffs


Twiddle®Muffs provide warmth and exercise for the hands to relieve symptoms of arthritis. Professional caregivers rave about them. They inspire social interaction, are calming, and can lead to reduction in the need for medication.

Box of Balls

Box of Balls


This box of six balls is loaded with sensory stimulation and fun! They are primarily tactile, but also provide visual stimulation, and exercise for the hands and arms.

Related Research

Using direct tactile stimulation, researchers found improvement in short-term and long-term memory in subjects diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. They also noticed an improvement in general mood, and in socialization and participation in daily activities. After six weeks, these improvements partially remained.

Similar results were achieved by a group in The Netherlands that used peripheral tactile nerve stimulation (massage) as tactile stimulation.

Janet M. Witucki and Renee Samples Twibell found that simply massaging lotion into an AD patient's hand significantly improved scores on a test of psychological well being.