Sensory stimulation plays a role not only in keeping senses sharp and in tune but also in maintaining emotional well-being. In addition, people with dementia often are more open for communication when their senses have been adequately stimulated, and in many cases sensory stimulation also helps decrease sleep issues.
Every person is different, so the sensory needs of one individual may differ from those of another. Home caregivers are in a position to observe how their loved ones respond to various kinds of sensory stimulation and to determine which senses should receive extra attention.
Below are a few suggestions on providing sensory stimulation for loved ones with dementia.
- Make sure lighting levels are appropriate in a room, neither too bright nor too dim.
- Position loved ones in areas with views.
- Make indoor environments visually inviting; pots of flowers or plants can provide objects of interest to patients.
- Artwork is also good, but in most cases it needs to feature easily recognizable figures and forms; a clearly visible painting of a woman may be less confusing and more engaging to a person with dementia than an abstract version of the same.
- Those potted flowers mentioned above also may provide aromatic sensory stimulation.
- Check with the doctor to see whether your loved one can use scented creams and lotions.
- Observe which kitchen smells are pleasing to your loved one.
- Physical human contact can be important. Holding hands or giving a backrub may bring pleasure to a person with dementia.
- Make sure there are different tactile surfaces in the home: smooth fabrics, nubby fabrics, cord trim, tassels, etc.
- If appropriate, pets can provide a lovely sensory experience.
- Music can provide a great deal of sensory stimulation and often can serve as a prod for memories.
- Make sure that audio is kept at an appropriate level; too much volume may produce sensory overload, too little volume may require too much strain.
- Many people respond well to non-musical audio, such as recordings of babbling brooks or sounds of birds in the wild; however, be aware that some dementia patients may be confused and disconcerted by sounds occurring in out-of-context locations.
- Within the boundaries established by dietary needs, provide a variety of taste sensations at meals. Through observation, determine which foods produce especially positive reactions.
- With proper preparation, introduce new tastes to see how the individual with dementia responds to them. This may be better done in the form of small snacks rather than as part of large meals.
Knowing exactly what will provide sensory stimulation for a loved one with dementia requires trial and error; however, finding this out can make both of your lives more rewarding.