As we age it is common that one or more of our senses will decline which can impact on our quality of life. From the way we communicate to how much we enjoy doing things, our senses play a huge part. And, it is important that as we get older we find new ways to engage our senses in a meaningful way.
Sensory stimulation has been shown to have a variety of benefits for the elderly and especially those living with dementia. It is an important part of care to ensure that activities are provided which can help involve the senses to improve a person’s quality of life.
What is Sensory Stimulation
Sensory stimulation is the process of using different activities designed to engage the senses. It’s especially useful for those living with dementia or conditions which may affect memory, as sensory stimulation can help trigger memories and transport a person back to a time that was precious to them.
Sensory stimulation can encompass a variety of activities from exploring the outdoors, cooking a meal or looking through a photo album, each providing different benefits.
Benefits of Sensory Activities
Activities which engage the senses are becoming ever more common in care environments as we see improvements in mood, relaxation, social skills and the ability to make connections. Familiar scents have been used as part of dementia care activities as a way to trigger memories. As our sense of smell is one of our strongest senses, it can be used to transport someone back to a time they think of affectionately. Partnered with familiar sounds, our senses can be engaged further to help elicit more positivity.
Using sensory stimulus as a way to evoke memories can have a beneficial effect on the individuals mood and self-esteem as they draw from positive emotions at times when they felt both confident and happy.
Reminiscing is a brilliant way to spark conversations in the elderly, however this can be difficult for someone living with dementia. The ability to recollect memories may not be such a simple process, and reminiscence activities may be required to assist in triggering memories.
Effectively engaging the senses can be a fantastic way to evoke memories as they played such a big part in creating them. Smelling the scent of the seaside and hearing the sounds of gulls and waves crashing can transport someone back to when they visited the coast as a child on holiday. Hearing a song which was played at an individual’s wedding or perhaps sitting down and going through old photographs can have a profound effect on the ability for someone to connect with their memories.
Reminiscence or memory boxes which contain a range of sensory items which are personal to that individual can be excellent for someone who may struggle to recollect. Going through each item individually such as a loved ones perfume, or touching a certain material can help evoke memories.
Sensory activities can assist in calming an individual who may be agitated or stressed. The calming effect brought on by listening to soothing music or smelling a familiar scent can help to reduce agitation and induce feelings of relaxation.
By introducing other senses such as sight in to the process can help further. The combination of both sight and sound are thought to be the most effective senses when paired together and a fantastic activity for relaxation which engages these senses is to be amongst plants and wildlife. This can be any number of activities such as visiting a local park, a garden or perhaps a botanical greenhouse. The visual stimuli of the plants combined with the familiar smells of flowers is a brilliant way to relax in a natural environment, this can help to reduce anxiety and have a positive effect on mood.
As we age, socialization can sometimes suffer as we struggle to communicate as effectively as we once did. With a lack of socialization comes loneliness, which can in turn cause someone to withdraw and their mood to decline. It’s so important that localisation and communication are considered as part of activities and elder care.
Reminiscence activities are fantastic ways to introduce new conversations. As memories are sparked, your loved one may become more forthcoming in talking and discussing their cherished memories. Watching films in a group, going for a walk with others, or simply listening to a song with someone can all help to improve socialization by engaging the senses.
An older person may not feel as connected to the world as they used to, especially common for people living with dementia or mobility restrictions. The outdoors may not seem so accessible as we get older, but it is still important that we are able connect with the natural world.
For indoor activities try playing seasonal sounds and providing scents such as cut grass to help re-build those connections. Outdoor activities could be as simple as setting up a safe space to spend time outside, where an individual can listen to wildlife, see the plants and get fresh air.
Sensory stimulating activities can have a variety of benefits for older people. Whether it is reducing loneliness, re-establishing memories, improving cognitive ability or providing a calming environment. Sensory activities should always be considered as part of a persons care whether that is in a care home group environment or as an individual and their carer