Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are conditions that affect many people in their later years. As the disease progresses, the individual’s senses gradually diminish as well. When this is the case, it can be challenging to engage in activities that stimulate cognitive functions, which are particularly important to maintaining good health. Therefore, it’s important to provide activities that can stimulate cognitive functions while also benefitting other senses like touch, hearing, and sight. Sensory activities for individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s will help your loved one retain their quality of life while experiencing physical benefits as well! Here are several sensory activities that have lasting effects on people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, if done frequently.
When it comes to people with dementia, touch is one of our most important senses. It can act as a trigger or cue to take them back to another time in their life where they were safe and happy. Studies show that physical contact can even help ease pain, reduce anxiety and stress, soothe agitated patients, increase feelings of relaxation and calmness, reduce blood pressure, and lower pulse rate. Physical contact stimulates memories that encourage an individual with dementia to initiate conversation. They could talk about what they did together in times past or how much they loved each other at that time. Physical touch might be enough to entice them into trying new activities again.
Oftentimes, individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s have difficulties hearing. It may be that they are losing their hearing or are distracted by noises in their environment. Either way, try engaging your loved ones by asking them to hear your voice. Use a loud, clear voice so they can better detect where you are coming from. For example, ask them what color am I wearing? If they answer correctly, follow up with another question: How many fingers am I holding up? Make sure to use large hand gestures when talking to increase engagement further.
An old favorite that offers plenty of stimulation, the smell is a great activity to kick off one that will engage several senses. Much like how our sense of sight relies on what we see around us, our sense of smell relies on what we are smelling at any given time. Because individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s can often become highly forgetful or restless, it is challenging to find ways to engage them fully in the conversation. However, many people who suffer from mental disorders have enhanced senses of smell and can detect certain scents more strongly than others. You can make sure you are stimulating all your loved one’s senses by lighting a candle while talking with them about their day or asking them questions about events that happened yesterday or even last week.
Visual stimulation is a great way to stimulate memories and emotions in individuals with dementia. Make a book of family photos, create a collage from magazine cut-outs or take your loved one on a walk around their old neighborhood.
Sensitivity to specific tastes such as sweet, sour, and salty often diminishes due to dementia. Sipping fresh fruit juices and flavored drinks is an enjoyable way to stimulate taste buds that have lost their sense of taste. You can also freeze juice into ice cubes or create an assortment of frozen popsicles that offer different textures and flavors. For example, strawberries mixed with a small amount of sugar make a tasty fruit pop, while pears blended with a splash of milk make a soothing cold treat. Many fruits also offer subtle flavor changes depending on whether they are cooked or raw, so try both options if your loved one has room in their diet plan for extra calories.