The Importance of Sensory Stimulation and Dementia

Written by Active Minds on Tuesday the 22nd of March 2016.


The effects of Dementia are progressive and living with it has a gradual impact on a person’s thinking, mood, behaviour and ability to perform daily tasks. Therefore it’s highly important to keep interacting, keep active and keep carrying out parts of a typical routine. There can be a tendency to avoid activities, so it doesn’t distress someone living with dementia if they can’t carry out tasks successfully, but encouraging an absence of activities can lead to isolation and unhappiness. Carrying out meaningful activities helps to maintain a connection to ‘normal life’. Here at Active Minds we have a wide range of activities and items to help encourage sensory stimulation.

Sensory Stimulation

A widely used therapy in dementia care is sensory stimulation. This method of care encourages people living with dementia to engage in activities that stimulate one of the 5 senses; taste, sound, smell, touch and sight. The goal is to help evoke an emotional reaction to an activity and be in touch with the immediate environment around them or remind them of a past memory.

Sensory stimulation allows people living with dementia to express themselves, especially if they have difficulty doing this through speech. Evoking a response to a particular sensory stimulant can help them to show appreciation and happiness in a different way. For example, showing an old photo or playing a favourite piece of music can help form memories and become a way of communicating for people living with dementia as they can respond through the stimulus.

Active Minds have a series of Reminiscence tools, which we think are perfect for sensory stimulation activities. Our Reminiscence Books cover a range of different subjects, such as pets and sports, in order to spark conversation through the pictures and large text included. Watching films and videos can be a really effective way of providing a stimulus and Reminiscence Films depict traditional British scenes and excerpts from the past. Reminiscence Cards show relevant images from the 1940s and 1950s to provide conversation starters and prompts.

Using stimulus that rouses nostalgic feelings and memories of the past can increase self-worth and self-esteem. It can remind someone living with dementia about the things that they have done and achieved in their life and make them feel more confident in themselves and about interacting with others.

It’s important to choose an appropriate stimulus for people living with dementia. For example; choosing an activity that involves tasting favourite foods or foods from childhood will not be a suitable activity for someone going through a stage of dementia that inhibits their ability to swallow. Assessing and choosing activities that are suitable for each person’s needs is recommended.

Sensory Room

A recent study by Kingston University has reinforced the benefits of multi-sensory rooms to help stimulate people living with dementia. ‘Soft textiles, familiar everyday objects, interesting things to smell and taste, sound and film can all have an important part to play in the process’ and contribute towards improved mood and esteem. The study explains how having a comfortable, relaxing, safe, age-appropriate room can have positive long-term effects on people living with dementia. A few of methods of doing this are set out:

Bring outside factors inside, such as plants, flowers and natural stimulus.

Gentle music from previous decades can create a relaxed atmosphere.

Personal items such as photos and videos can evoke positive memories.

Different scents can provide a calming experience, such as lavender.

Sensory Activities

People living with dementia can still undergo sensory stimulation without a sensory room. Taking residents for a short walk outside can allow them to experience all sorts of different, natural stimulus. Reading to someone living with dementia, whether from their favourite book or old diary entries can create a sense of calm. Hand massages can help relax and make them feel at ease.

Sensory Stimulation has the ability to provide enjoyment, nostalgia and feelings of self-worth for people living with dementia. By providing calming activities that encourage interaction and involvement, people with dementia are less likely to experience isolation and low mood. Showing important or every day aspects of the past can help them to feel connected to life and those around them.