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Stimulating All 5 Senses: The Right Activities to Engage People with Dementia

Cormac Stanford

For people living with dementia, awareness and memory become compromised. However, the five senses allow us to process stimuli within our environment(s) at any given moment. From sounds to visual images, tastes to scents, or the tactile feelings that exhilarate and excite, sensorial activities can work as positive triggers to spur conversations, elicit interaction, and bridge connections with friends or family members with dementia.

Stimulating Sensory Perception
Humans are constantly inundated with stimuli every second of the day, however for someone living with dementia, the synapses in the brain are diminishing and awareness dwindles. Dementia eventually leads to memory loss, the inability to communicate, and even limitations in mobility. All of these events can have a debilitating effect on mood, self-esteem, and overall temperament or personality. However, sensorial activities, such as a light massage with a scented lotion or candle, listening to relaxing music, or taking an outdoor stroll during a warm day, can turn into a wonderful or meaningful interaction or shared experience. Linking activities to sensory stimulation is most successful when tapping into prior interests, hobbies, or pastimes that the person with dementia had prior to the development of the condition.

Sensory stimulation is intended to bring joy, reduce anxiety and depression, and elicit engagement. Data also suggests that sensory perception improves cognition and contributes to improved daily function, encourages socialisation and yields more effort at communication, and provides better opportunities for increased concentration, focus, alertness and awareness. As one dementia blogger put it, “Reminiscing can sometimes be difficult for someone living with dementia as the ability to recollect memories is not as simple as it used to be. As our senses often play a huge part in the creation of memories, stimulating the senses can often help bring those memories back.”1

Luckily, there are many products that exist which can evoke positive memories and emotions, while also encouraging interaction. Particularly in the latter stages of dementia when cognitive impairments are the most heightened or perceptible, igniting the senses allows for a more instinctual and automatic trigger to lift wellbeing.

Sensorial Activities & Products that Profit People with Dementia

Five different senses; many different sensory activities for people with dementia; with one amazing outcome — stimulation! While there are many products on the market specifically for people living with dementia, here are some that stand out which are expressly tailored to the different stages of dementia progression, as well as the five senses:

  • Sight: Sight may not be affected by dementia or other memory loss conditions at all, so Relish makes many games and activities that appeal to the eye and challenge the brain, including:
    • Magnetic picture boards allow the person to create a comforting and conversation-sparking scene by arranging the visual pieces on the background
    • Reminiscence cards provide the perfect opportunities or cues to sit, relax, and tell joyful life stories to reminisce and smile about
    • Snap card games have illustrated cards with recognisable images in bold contrasting colours, meant for matching and expressing creativity
    • Wordsearches are dementia-friendly word puzzles with large and legible lettering, meant to delight and challenge with two different levels
  • Hearing: If the person with dementia is not experiencing severe hearing loss, there are some great musical products that can garner his/her attention and soothe the ears AND soul through recognition of the oldies, but goodies:
    • Sensory CDs bring a perfect balance of delight and reassurance by putting the person at ease to unwind or explore memories of days past or those spent in nature
    • The NEW retro-nostalgic Relish Radio will bring the power of music to life for
      people with dementia by enabling the ability to play and listen to music independently
  • Smell: Scintillating Sensory sprays can entice the person and remind him/her/them of a scent from a long-ago place or time, which can be paired with a Sensory CD in a collection pack to enhance the activity or jog the memory even further!

  • Touch: Keeping the person living with dementia’s hands active and occupied is an important part of sensory, nerve, and mental stimulation. Many of Relish’s games and activities calm busy or constant hands and decrease the frenzy to move or touch, including:
    • Marvelous mazes allow the person to get the marble to its destination along the track in a light board that’s easily to manipulate with the hands
    • Matching games with a tactile twist have textures for the person with mid- to late-stage dementia to touch, which hopefully unlock personal stories or spur positive memories
    • Fidget widgets bring a sense of calm and engagement to busy hands and unsettled minds when manipulating through rolling, twisting, turning, sliding, or spinning

  • Taste: There’s no one who doesn’t enjoy a blast from the past through their sense of taste, especially something familiar from childhood. This is what some of the enticing activities within Relish’s app strive to do, including:
    • It’s Cookie O’Clock is an activity celebrating the joy of baking together, and with World Chocolate Day having happened this month, it’s a perfect time to enjoy this activity!
    • The Delicious Discoveries activity allows noses, tongues, and hands to lead the way by exploring edible treats [meant for those in the earlier stages who can swallow easily or without intervention]
    • And more!

For more information on more of our sensory-stimulating and perception-pleasing products for people living with dementia or other memory loss conditions, please visit https://www.Relish-life.com to view our digital catalog or even download our free app for families and caregivers.

1 Abbeyfield Blog, Abbeyfield: Making Time for Older People, https://www.abbeyfield.com/blog/the-importance-of-sensory-activities-for-those-living-with-dementia/, Blog section.