Why Does Sensory Stimulation Work?
If complex speech is no longer understood sensory stimulation
is the simplest form of information gathering and processing. It is ideal for working with persons living with dementia in the later stages because it allows for information processing that removes the cognitive overlay leaving a person with sensation alone. Smell, taste and touch, particularly, require little interpretation to be fully appreciated. You may even notice a person with dementia naturally gravitate towards tactile stimulation by exploring the fabric of their clothing or the smoothness of the table in front of them.
Additionally, impaired vision or hearing can cause a person to have a lessened interest in their environment. Media that stimulates two senses at the same time can be particularly engaging for someone with reduced sensory abilities.
The goal of multisensory work is to stimulate. It can evoke memories and provide links to a person’s past identity. It is through these links that connections are made and a sense of belonging is felt and maintaining connection is essential to well-being in dementia care.
Sensory Stimulating Activities
Types of sensory stimulation include: aromatherapy, massage, handling objects simply to experience their texture or smell, tasting, hearing noises and engagement with light or movement.
Pleasure may still be derived from looking at pictures or forming visual observations of movement or color. Items that may be helpful in providing sensory engagement include texture boards,
fabrics and scarves, sensory blankets
, music, rain sticks, shaving cream, rocking chairs and sand trays.
Sensory Art Making
As an art therapist, I often use sensory projects with my clients. Being creative releases meaning. In sensory art making, we start with something small and meaning emerges. The experience of feeling clay, for example, may connect people with ideas in their minds that have yet to surface. Some projects I use to provide sensory art experiences include:
- Finger painting which is more sensual than using a paintbrush
- Dropping paint onto wet paper and allowing it to transform into something more visually enticing than forming color forming on paper
- Clay work, without using tools for cutting and scoring, because working with ones hands emphasizes the tactile quality of the materials
for more ideas on incorporating sensory activities into your programming. For more information on creativity and aging see the following articles: “Why Arts in Aging”
by Katharine Houpt, and “Dancing Through Dementia: What is Dance/Movement Therapy”
by Erica Hornthal.
Thank you to llamnudds for the colorful photo. Thanks to Renee Bober for editing this post