How sensory activities can boost memory

Sensory stimulation uses everyday objects to arouse one or more of the five senses (hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch), with the goal of evoking positive feelings. Using everyday objects can trigger emotions and memories in elderly people who have lost their ability to connect with the world around them.

A therapeutic practice since the 1960s, sensory activities were originally designed to help people with learning disabilities connect and communicate in a safe, stimulating environment whilst enjoyable activity. In dementia care, sensory activities can work to soothe anxiety or stress, making it easier for individuals to listen, concentrate or take on board information.

Ways Sensory Stimulation Can Affect Alzheimer’s

As Alzheimer’s progresses, a persons’ ability to communicate and perform everyday activities declines. Providing a new form of expression when communication is a challenge can help them feel safe and relax, and help improve mood, self-esteem and well-being. Additionally, by drawing attention to a particular item, sensory stimulation encourages memories and responses from elderly people suffering from Alzheimer’s.

For example; art and pictures can trigger emotions and memories for people who no longer speak. A person who has trouble expressing themselves might suddenly smile or want to pick up a pencil and draw. That art form can potentially become a means for the person to communicate, either through personal works of art or simply by reacting to the visual stimuli.

Everyday Sensory Cues

Sensory stimulation works best when it uses familiar objects and focuses on one sense at a time. Good sensory cues include:

  • Familiar, odorous foods
  • Natural materials, such as flowers
  • Sensory-rich materials, such as clothing, sensory blankets or fidgeters  

Sensory Stimulation Activities

Activities involved in sensory stimulation are often linked to interests the person had prior to dementia, and can help build a connection to everyday life. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, sensory stimulation activities might include:

  • Bringing in objects the person does not normally have around, such as sand, seashells or other items
  • Giving a hand massage
  • Taking a short walk
  • Talking and reading aloud to the person
  • Providing a change of scenery by taking a trip outdoors

Depending on how the person reacts, the carer might alter the activity or switch to a different sense to find the stimuli that is going to inspire a positive response.

Sensory stimulation is intended to bring enjoyment to people with the disease, reduce their anxiety and depression, and increase their social interaction. Those shared experiences and memories can help bring people back to a time that they remember fondly, which can help them feel meaningful and connected again.

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