What is sensory stimulation?

Sensory stimulation or multi-sensory stimulation, refer to a variety of techniques that are intended to stimulate the senses with the intention of increasing mental alertness and reducing agitation.

How could sensory stimulation activities benefit seniors?

Originating in Europe in the 1960’s and designed for use with learning disabilities, sensory stimulation has since gained notoriety in the United States and is now being used to treat patients with Alzheimer’s disease, brain injuries, chronic pain, and other forms of dementia.

As Alzheimer’s and other diseases affecting cognitive awareness progress, a senior’s ability to perform their daily tasks and abilities, as well as their communication ability will decline. Multi-sensory stimulation activities allow seniors to express themselves and to better communicate with their family members and caregivers. Sensory stimulation can also help the elderly with their self-esteem, mood, and well-being, as well as enabling them to feel safe and relax. It can even encourage memories and response from seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

A study in 2009 showed that using equipment for multi-sensory stimulation in the homes of people with dementia when the person became restless had positive effects on both the person with dementia as well as their caregivers. The dementia patient showed and interest in the equipment, was more relaxed, and it appeared that their cognitive state approved.
Even the caregivers reported feeling more connected to the person with dementia, an improvement in interpersonal relationships overall, and experiencing a more relaxed atmosphere.

What are some ways to incorporate simple sensory activities at home?

Finger paint. Allowing your senior loved one to get a little messy in a controlled environment can be a fun and freeing activity for them. Non-toxic finger paints are easily accessible and inexpensive, and with a little water, clean-up isn’t too bad.

Using nature. Nature can be a great way for your senior to experience a number of sensory activities, and totally free! Collect leaves from around the yard or neighborhood and using crayons or pencils and tracing paper laid over the leaf, have them rub the impressions from the leaf onto the paper for a 3-D looking piece of original art.

You can also go on a nature walk, or make it a scavenger hunt to appreciate the sounds and smells and sights of nature! See how many birds your senior can hear with their ears or spot with their eyes, and look for rocks, animals, and insects.

Get hands-on. Most people, regardless of age, love to get their hands on squishy materials such as molding clay or Playdoh- and your senior is probably no different! Get a variety of Playdoh in colors or even scents- or better yet, have their caregivers use a recipe online to make a batch with your loved one.

Helpful Tips: Make sure that your senior is being supervised at all times during sensory play, especially with small items that they may be able to choke on, or other items that could be dangerous if put into the mouth.