Visual Stimulation for People with Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

Visual Stimulation – Vision is our most important sense, the one through which we gain most of our information, and the one that offers the broadest range of possibilities for stimulation.

Visual stimulation for Alzheimer's patients can involve light, color, shape, or motion, or a combination of those elements. Gently animated lights, kaleidoscopes, colorful paintings, nature movies, fiber optic Christmas trees, a glorious sunset: all examples of visual stimulation. Some can have the added benefit of stimulating memory: a sunset might dredge up a memory of a similar sunset in the patient's past. A classic painting may be remembered from a visit to a museum or an Art Appreciation class in college.

Light for visual stimulation

A most basic form of visual stimulation for people with Alzheimer's and dementia is bright light therapy. This is totally passive, but can be effective for sleep and mood enhancement, especially in winter. Not everyone has access to a light as bright as is needed for this, so give your patient as much opportunity as possible to be in direct sunlight.

Other sources of light, especially if they move or change color, provide a different type of visual stimulation. Avoid overly bright lights and lights that move or flash to quickly, as these can cause confusion and over-stimulation. If you have or can find one, a Lava Lamp® ia good sources of soothing light stimulation that is not overly stimulating.

Don't forget natural light. Bright objects that hang in the window, or even outside, and reflect the rays of the sun; stained glass trinkets that color the sunlight and allow it to shine through; mirrors that reflect incoming light and brighten the room; these all add stimulating possibilities to the environment.

Movies and video for the Alzheimer's patient

Movies and video features of all kinds provide auditory stimulation as well as visual stimulation. But the purpose of movies is to entertain. Entertainment is a diversion that we all need and enjoy, including those of us with Alzheimer's disease.

People with dementia quickly loose the ability to follow a plot line. Older movies are a good choice; they often have simpler plots. If she enjoyed the movie in better times she will probably remember it to some degree. Let her help you to choose the evenings entertainment.

A good alternative to feature movies is nature documentaries. Many are visually stunning, and contain minimum narration. The natural themes are enjoyed by almost everyone and are certainly visually stimulating. They are generally beautifully scored, sometimes with familiar music, sometimes with music written specifically for the movie. Another feature for this audience is that these videos don't have to be viewed in a single sitting, they don't require undivided attention, and they can serve as a stimulus for conversation and socialization. See our entire line of DVD entertainment.

Multi-sensory activities

This website is full of items that provide stimulation to more than a single sense organ. One or our favorites is the Tangle featured on the "Toys and Manipulatives...." page. Another is our collection of balls that can stimulate ones sense of humor as well as several different receptors. It is almost guaranteed that you have a diverse collection of appropriate objects around. If there are young children around, enlist their help to find them. They are the experts. If not, think like a child, and be amazed at what you find.

Decorating for the Alzheimer's patient

We all do our best to create a visually stimulating environment for ourselves. We call it decorating, but we often neglect to decorate for person who has Alzheimer's/dementia. Use the ideas presented on the website to produce a stimulating, entertaining, and active living environment for her.

Verilux® HappyLite®

HappyLight 6000


The Verilux® HappyLight 6000 is a 6000 lux light source that can be used to combat the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a common condition caused by the decrease in daylight in the winter months.

This is the type of light used by several studies (see below) that found exposure to a bright light source had a positive effect on sleep patterns, mood, and behavior in people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Also available is a 10000 lux light which would be good for nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Read more about light therapy for Alzheimer's.

Research in Visual Stimulation

Burns and Byrne, in a study reported in the British Medical Journal, found that dementia patients who sat in front of a bright (10 000 lux) light for two hours each morning slept an average of 40 minutes longer, and slept more deeply, than usual. A control group who sat in front of a 100 lux light slept only about 8 minutes longer. This tendency was not evident during the summer, but the findings can be instructive for the long dark months of winter

A Dutch group reported in the June 11, 2008 issue of JAMA that bright light therapy "ameliorated symptoms of disturbed cognition, mood, behavior, functional abilities, and sleep."

Brain activity was measured directly to investigate the effects of audiovisual stimulation in people with Alzheimer's disease. The team that conducted this study reported a significant increase in brain activity, but the increase was less in more advanced stages of the disease. The stimulation that these investigators used was a movie. This is good news for the caregiver; we can all administer a movie!