Dementia patients are often prescribed medication to help manage their symptoms. However, many other therapies for seniors with dementia don’t involve medication and can still help aid in their disease management. Therefore, we have compiled a list of sensory activities for dementia patients that will stimulate their senses and give them something to look forward to each day while in memory care. Ideas include painting, gardening, cooking, and more!
How Does Dementia Affect the Senses?
Dementia is a term for impaired memory or the ability to remember to do daily tasks, memories, and other day-to-day activities. Alzheimer’s is one of the most common types of dementia and dramatically affects the brain and its ability to remember things. However, it also affects each of the five senses, making it very difficult for individuals to complete everyday tasks and things requiring dexterity.
Although vision can become more impaired as we get older, with diseases like Alzheimer’s, changes in the brain can actually make it hard to interpret what you are seeing. Ways to get around this include ensuring walls and floors are different colors so that the individual can tell the difference. Also, adding brightly colored tape to stairs, edges of the floor, and doorways can help them quickly see the change in height or width and avoid trips and falls.
This is actually one of the more dangerous aspects of Alzheimer’s is a person’s ability to smell diminishing. This means they cannot smell smoke from a fire, rotten food, or gas leaks. One way to mitigate this is to ensure multiple working fire and carbon monoxide alarms are in their room or home and clearly mark dates on food or other things that can expire.
Changes in the brain can cause a loss of sensation in the hands and feet, which can be dangerous if one cannot feel how hot or cold water is or feel something sharp. One way to help with this is to pad sharp corners, remove any sharp utensils from the room, and clearly mark faucets with red for hot and blue for cold. Also, never leave someone with dementia unattended with an appliance like a microwave or stove. Sensory therapy can help individuals learn what hot or cold feels like to them even with a lack of sensation in their hands.
Like vision, even if someone has good hearing, dementia can cause them to misinterpret or not understand what they are hearing. Keeping their environment free of loud noises like running the radio and TV simultaneously, speaking loudly, and mismanaged hearing aids, can alleviate any stress or anxiety they may feel when they get overwhelmed with sounds.
Sensitivity to taste can severely decline as Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms worsen. As a result, individuals may overuse seasonings like sugar or salt without realizing it. They may also begin to eat things that aren’t food like soap, shampoo, etc. Keep a mindful eye on individuals with dementia to ensure they are not eating things that are dangerous and could make them sick.
Sensory Activities for Dementia Patients
Sensory activities can help aid in these changes in senses and keep people with dementia sharper for longer. Plus, they can give them a gauge to know what and how things feel and taste now with their new sensory changes.
Sensory Activities for Sight
Try painting, movies, decorating their room, or light therapy if you want to utilize some sensory activities that specifically focus on sight.
Painting combines sight and touch and is an easy way to get individuals with dementia engaged and using the creative part of their brain. Finger painting specifically can let them feel the textures of the paint between their fingers, and choosing the different colors exercises their brain and vision. It can be so fun to see what they come up with!
Watching movies can be very nostalgic for them, and with easy-to-follow plot lines, they should have fun watching and interpreting the story. Lastly, light therapy can actually boost cognitive function, improve sleep, and prevent wandering.
Sensory Activities for Smell
Smell is greatly attached to memories, and by adding smell therapy to their regimen, individuals might be able to remember things easier based on smell. For example, you can try using labeled cards with little baggies of things attached like pine needles, peppermint, rose petals, or other familiar scents they can smell and try to point out what they are.
Sensory Activities for Touch
The easiest way to help with sensory changes in touch is by providing various textures for them to feel and explore. Have different kinds of materials they can manipulate, like sandpaper, velvet, or even water-filled sponges that are housed inside containers. Letting individuals map out what the texture feels like on their fingertips will give them a sense of control over their senses and can make them feel more grounded in the world around them.
Sensory Activities for Hearing
Audiobooks and music are a great way to help with hearing and give them something they can follow along and listen to on their own. You may also want to try turning the TV volume up or down to make sure it isn’t too loud for seniors or play soothing music like violin solos which have been shown to improve sleep quality.
Sensory Activities for Taste
Keeping a mindful eye on the food they are eating and how much of it is healthy or not, like sugary foods or too many seasonings. Encourage their sense of taste by adding small amounts of salt and sugar to meals so that when you cut back later, it will help them remember what things tasted like before dementia took over.
Overall, sensory activities can help keep dementia patients engaged and their minds sharp. They are also great for seniors who have memory loss to provide them with some clarity on what is happening around them, instead of getting lost in all the changes that come with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
At Sunflower Communities, we work closely with our residents to ensure they get the therapy they need to face the daily challenges of dementia. We ensure they have fun activities, nutritious food, and one-on-one attention so they can live as independently as possible. If you have a loved one needing a dementia-friendly community, give us a call to take a tour!