Everyone experiences the world through the senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. These senses diminish with age, impacting lifestyle and well-being.
Sensory changes can cause problems communicating, enjoying activities, and staying connected with others. People living with dementia are especially impacted by sensory loss.
Sensory activities can be used to strategically activate one or more of the senses to help people living with dementia connect with the world around them.
Sensory activities should be soothing and enjoyable. They may include things like gentle hand massages, bird-watching in the sunshine, and listening to music. Sensory activities can be non-verbal; thereby crossing cultural boundaries.
Related: Catalog of Sensory Activity Ideas
Multisensory activities are activities that combine two or more senses. Most sensory stimulation activities involve two or more of the senses such as:
Related: Sensory Stimulation with Wind Chimes
Rummage, Memory or Sensory boxes are containers filled with everyday objects to assist people living with dementia to interact, communicate, and reminisce. These activities can also be a soothing form of distraction.
Boxes can be created to cater to individual needs or for the general use of residents. The aim is to offer failure-free, gentle stimulation of sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, and movement in a controlled environment.
The aim of sensory boxes is to offer the opportunity to stimulate as many senses as possible. This activity is also an opportunity to relax, contemplate, chat and reminisce.
Sometimes you will have to demonstrate (depending on age or stage of illness) the activity to engage the person; the emphasis is on enjoyment and participation. Thorough supervision is essential with these types of activities. Here are some ideas for sensory boxes:
A large plastic box or a small suitcase of balls in different textures; rubber, plastic, fabric, squishy, baby (with a bell inside), porcupine balls, massage balls, glow-in-the-dark balls. Any type of tactile ball is suitable. The quantity of balls depends on the size of the box you have.
A large container (46 x 23 cm or 18 x 9 inches) half-filled with uncooked oats or rice bubbles (Any cereal on sale). Offer spoons, cups, and other utensils for exploration.
Kinetic Sand Play
Kinetic sand can be shaped and stretched without separating. Place sand on a large cooking tray and offer safety utensils for exploration. Consult with management before purchasing.
Gather or buy large seeds such as pine cones, waratahs, acorns, jacaranda, or whatever seeds you have on hand e.g. avocado seeds, coconut, peach pits. Seeds can provide a variety of different textures, shapes, and sizes to explore. NOTE: Be mindful of safety risks; insert small seeds into zip-lock plastic bags to avoid choking.
Place a few boiled eggs or peeled bananas on a plate along with plastic cutlery. Demonstrate cutting the food and encourage residents to cut and taste it.
The addition of multisensory spaces to your facility may inspire residents to explore, interact or have somewhere where they can ‘just be’. Here are a few ideas:
Create a working office in a corner for people who insist they have to ‘go to work’. Provide an office desk, computer, files, pens and highlighters, a hole-punch, in-out trays etc
There are many things you can do to bring nature inside. Setup a nature corner that includes pot plants, the bark of twigs of trees, moss planted in pots, small tree branches and grasses, palm leaves, banana leaves, bird of paradise leaves, and ferns.
Setup a three or four-drawer dresser in a corner and fill it with everyday items such as doilies, napkins, beanies, colored socks, scarves, baby clothes, tea towels, and other items. Some people may enjoy sorting and organizing them.
Outdoor Garden Shed
Setup a garden shed with an old plastic wheelbarrow, potting mixture, garden tools, and buckets. Ask residents to help you tend to raised garden beds nearby.
Buy an old car that is still in reasonable condition (perhaps it could be donated if you spread the word around) and place it in the backyard of your facility, under a carport or driveway. Residents may feel compelled to ‘wash’ it, ‘fix’ it, or just sit in it.
This is just a start! There are many more stimulating areas worth trying: familiar foods, texture-rich materials, reading, massage, painting, outings, and music.
Connecting with the senses is a valuable way to communicate with people living with dementia.
We'd love to hear your feedback. What has worked for you?