Visual Stimulation – Aside from the brain, the eye is the most complex and incredible organ in the animal world. 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.
As long as there is light, everything is visible, and potentially stimulating. Simply, vision is what happens when light enters the eye and is turned into electrical impulses by the eye’s retina. These impulses travel along the optic nerve to the occipital cortex of the brain. The brain then “sees” the image that the eye sends. Visual stimulation is brain stimulation, and brain stimulation is what we are after.
Visual Stimulation for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Visual stimulation for people who have Alzheimer’s 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 person’s past. He may remember a classic painting from a visit to a museum or from an Art Appreciation class in college.
Light for visual stimulation
A most basic form of visual stimulation for 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 source as bright as is needed for this, so provide 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, except for lights that have been designed specifically for bright-light therapy, Also avoid lights that appear to move quickly or flash as these can cause confusion and over-stimulation. If you can find one, or still have one, the Lava Lamp® is a good source of soothing light stimulation.
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 lose the ability to follow a plot line. Older movies are a good choice; they often have simpler plots than more current fair. If she enjoyed a given movie at some time in the past, she will probably remember it to some degree. Let her help you to choose the evening’s 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 is that these videos do not 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.
This website is full of items that provide stimulation to more than a single sense organ. One or our favorites is the Playable Art Ball, a beautifully crafted, colorful activity for the hands and eyes. Another is our collection of balls that can stimulate one’s sense of humor, as well as several different sense receptors. I will almost guarantee that you have a diverse collection of appropriately stimulating objects around the house. If there are young children around, enlist their help to find such objects. Children 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 this website to produce a stimulating, entertaining, and active living environment for him or her. This is the essence of quality-of-life!
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. Good news for the caregiver; we can all administer a movie!