Sensory stimulation with familiar scents. A fun activity for seniors and the elderly living with dementia.
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  • Sensory stimulation with familiar scents.


  • A metre of calico fabric in a natural colour.
  • Ground coffee, cinnamon stick or powder, dried lavender and rose petals.
  • Rubber bands and colourful ribbons.


  • Cut 4 pieces of calico into 8" x 6" (20cm x 15cm) pieces.
  • Sew pieces on three sides to make squarish ‘pockets’ and leaving one side open.
  • Insert each pocket with one of your chosen scents and close the opening; first with a rubber band, then with a nice colourful ribbon. Ensure residents cannot untie them.
  • Seat residents (2 or 3 only) around a table and pass around one pocket at a time. Encourage them by giving clues e.g.
    ‘It smells like something we drink in the mornings’
    ‘It smells like something we sprinkle on donuts'
  • Praise them for participating!

We'd love to hear your feedback!
Have you tried this activity or a variation of it?

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Comments   Post a Comment

sharon westcott 1st Mar 2022
I need ideas for afternoon dementia groups please
Susan 1st Mar 2022 Activity Director
Terry 11th Jan 2022
This is a great idea for a social, combined with some aromatic refreshments - I could see making an event of this. In a COVID world, we can't do a lot with touch, but we certainly can invite residents to sniff and guess. maybe have a sheet of paper for them and they fill in the aromas. See who guesses the most. I like this for Mother's Day, as Joanne said, it's a great idea! As a mom, I certainly remember the smell of baby powder, Bactine, etc. And as a child, I remember the smells of my mom's baking which combined a lot of scents. I don't think I've ever based an even on scent before... thanks for a great idea!
Talita 17th Jan 2022
Thanks for your feedback Terry!
Lisa allen 27th Dec 2020
My client has trouble smelling any ideas
Susan 28th Dec 2020 Activity Director
Hi Lisa
This is not a great activity for those who cannot smell
In fact some residents who have dementia cannot smell
Perhaps you can emphasize something else like color texture
Trish 29th Dec 2020
Has he been tested for Covid? One of the big issues of covid is no taste, no smell. Just saying...
Joanne Talerico 13th Nov 2020
Awesome ideas! I work with Developmentally Disabled people. We are going to try some of these. Joanne T
HARMANJOT 4th Nov 2020
Any challenges, issues, or contraindications for participating in or facilitating this activity?
Susan 4th Nov 2020 Activity Director

I would not do this with residents who like to put things in their mouth and with residents who are very good at untying things
You know your residents best so follow precautions you usually follow
Kimberly Amos 28th Jan 2020
I did a wheel of scents on a paper plate. I used tacky glue and glued scents like powder, spices, dried flowers. I used another to cut holes for smells. They loved it
Susan 29th Jan 2020 Activity Director
That is a great idea Kimberly thank you so much for sharing it
Julianne 1st Dec 2019 diversional therapist
I have done this many times & it’s really amazing when they smell something it brings back lots of memories. It’s a great activity, you could try and peel peas& corn very safe. Good therapy session as many people lived on farms & grew there own veggies.Makes them feel worth while and they have helped out with the cooking.
We planted the peas & corn , water them & watched them grow & picked the veggies together, than peeled them while having group talk about the use of this veggies.We made pea & corn soup than residents had this at dinner time.
Janice 16th Jul 2019 Activity Co-ordinator
I really like this idea. My residents really enjoy Sensory hands.
Talita 22nd Jul 2019
Thanks for your feedback Janice!
Joanne 19th Feb 2019 Leisure and Lifestyle Co ordinator
I have actually done another way with purchasing some perfumes, talcs, soaps, shaving cream etc and have the residents smell them and then we reminisce with what uses they had. So many memories came forth from Johnsons baby powder and sunlight soap...well worth a try. I had both men and women's scents.
Another sensory one worth trying is one cup of rice, 1/2 tsp vinegar and some food colour. Pour rice into container, use a toothpick to swirl around colour and then drizzle over the vinegar. Put lid on container and shake, spread out on plates to further enhance this I am going to try adding some aromatherapy oils to white - peppermint, purple - lavender etc
Talita 24th Feb 2019
You are so creative Joanne, I love all your ideas! (And so does everyone else!). Thanks for sharing!
Sierra 14th Feb 2019
We tried this with our residents but had an issue with a lot of the residents not being able to smell the scents. Do you have any other suggestions on what we could do?
Solange 14th Feb 2019 Diversional Therapist
Hi Sierra, in group settings sometimes it takes more than one session for them to get into the activity. You shouldn't give up; try another time with something completely different. It requires a little planning. Think of the popular perfumes and colognes from the 1950s and 1960s: buy or borrow it from residents' relatives; all you need is 3 or 4 perfumes/colognes.
Spray on a small piece of blotting paper and pass around for the residents to guess the scent. If you have males in the group, add an aftershave and scented hair product (Brylcreem). You will find that it may regenerate a lively discussion. Here are some possible choices:
'Chanel no. 5' by Chanel
'Tabu' by Dana
'English Lavender' by Yardley
'Accomplice' by Coty
"Arpege' by Lavin
'4711' by Maurer & Wirts
'Joy' byJean Patou
You may also ask residents what perfumes they used or preferred and then get the scents according to their taste and run the session a couple of weeks later. They will come around, you'll see!
Catherine 2nd Oct 2018
We did this activity this morning and it was well received by our residents. Our focus today was on spices- cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise and cloves. The activity provided a pleasant experience for residents and evoked happy memories of baking. It also raised giggles as those participating in the activity tried to guess the contents of the pouches from touch as well as smell.
Talita 8th Oct 2018
This is lovely to hear Catherine, what a great outcome! I'm always amazed at the power of different scents to trigger memories from the past. Love the strong scents you chose, spices are perfect for this activity!
Marilyn 11th Sep 2018
This is an excellent idea! I started putting lavender in the room for my friend. It helps whenever she resists taking the last dose meds before bed. I let her smell the lavender scent and it seems to make the task a little more pleasant for her.
Talita 17th Sep 2018
Thanks for your feedback Marilyn.
Christine 29th Aug 2018 Registered Diversional & Recreational Therapist
I created a sensory theme afternoon, with essential oils burning, strawberry scented candles, lava lamps, salt lamps, electric lighting, soothing music, herbs to smell, salted dough and mystery bean bags to touch. I closed curtains to create an effect and atmosphere. Very well received and lots of nice comments.
Talita 3rd Sep 2018
I love the idea of a sensory theme afternoon!!
Sally 16th Jul 2018 Activities Coordinator
We had a sensory day today. The clients weren't sure to start with (high functioning) but changed there minds. As well as the range of smells to guess we had hand massages and salt dough rolling and cutting (touch)
Talita 22nd Jul 2018
Sounds like it was a lovely activity Sally! Thanks for sharing.
Pauline Jordan 9th Jun 2017
Great ideas folks. At Hortic therapy, we deliver gardening sessions to senior citizens and people living with Dementia. We do a similar session called Guess the scent. The residents are blind folded and they then get to feel and smell the real product or plant. They have 3 guesses, if after the third one it is not correct, they are given clues then the answer is revealed. Good fun and great reminiscent stories are relived.
Chime 25th Oct 2016
I have made play dough and mixed in baking flavours and colours like caramel, lavender, lemon, orange, peppermint and vanilla. They were great to make shapes from too adding a 'touch' element. I put them in separate zipper plastic bags for a 'what do they remind you of..' Reminiscence session.
I love
Talita 25th Apr 2016
That's a good tip! I remember shopping for perfume one time and being offered coffee beans to smell in between different perfumes.
chant 24th Apr 2016
We have found that fresh coffee grinds is generally a good scent to neutralize if some are experiencing overwhelming tones or aromas.

So after, let`s say smelling cinnamon, then moving on to clove, some individuals wanted to smell the coffee grinds in between each one, thus enabling them to know that the scent in between is a familiar one, that one being coffee.
Darla 19th Dec 2014 Recreation and Rehab Manager
Great Ideas! I have the scents alone, and snippets of materials from local fabric store, also lots of ends of ribbon, even a box of buttons.
I had not thought to combine to make them into a scent project.

Also, we can make the scent swatches during creative crafting time!

I LOVE this activity site! There are so many people out there with great ideas, and Golden Carers able to produce a website for us to share!
Joanne 28th Sep 2012 Leisure and Lifestyle Co ordinator
I did one which I used in Girl put different spices etc into the film canisters and number them...the residents then guess what you have in can also use things they can taste...icing sugar,'s amazing how the senses will lead into reminiscing.
anne 17th Jan 2011 Recreational Activities Officer
Hi, I did a scent memory session with Dementia residents. Old time smells such as Old Spice, Fishermans Friends, Lavendar Talc, 4711 Perfume!! It was great and got some old memories back the surface simply by smelling.
Gail 29th Apr 2010 activities officer
Hi, we have done something similar, but we included items that the residents have to feel. Items such as cloths pegs, coins( aussie 50c is tricky) rice , pasta etc. Things that ladies in particular, may have used at home everyday.
Joanne 25th Apr 2010 Lifestyle Worker
Thankyou Solange:) should be fun.
Solange 24th Apr 2010 Diversional Therapist
That's a great idea Joanne, this would be a perfect Mother's Day activity.
Joanne 23rd Apr 2010 Lifestyle Worker
I really like this idea and think i will use it for a Mothers Day activity, using scents a mother would be familiar with. For example Baby oil, Cuddly, Dettol and the kitchen scents like coffee and cinnamon. With liquids like baby oil etc i would put a few drops onto cotton wool and insert that into the pouches.
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