8 Best Sensory Activities to Enhance the Lives of Dementia Patients

Many of us have experienced the emotional toll of seeing our loved ones develop Dementia.

And still, it is growing more prevalent in our society. Columbia University found that almost 10% of US adults age 65 and older are impacted by this disease (over 6 million people). And since it’s so difficult to prevent, we must have ways to keep our loved ones inspired and engaged.

Research has shown that offering sensory activities, or sensory stimulation therapy, can help reduce the effects of Dementia.

But what is sensory stimulation therapy? And what are some activities you can put in place right away?

Read on to learn more!

What is Sensory Stimulation Therapy?

sensory activities for dementia patients by holding and massaging hands

Sensory therapy for Dementia patients is the use of activities focused on touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing to stimulate the synapses in the brain.

As our brains age, the activity of our synapses begins to slow, which causes a decreased response to our senses. On top of this, those with Dementia may experience:

  • Memory loss
  • Communication challenges
  • Disorientation in familiar places
  • Mood and personality changes
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Poor judgment

Patients with Dementia benefit from sensory activities because they help activate synapses in the brain and reduce the behaviors mentioned above.

Benefits of Sensory Activities for Dementia Patients

Some cognitive improvements seen from sensory activities are as follows:

  • Better memory recall
  • Increased concentration
  • Feelings of confidence
  • Increased well-being
  • Inspiration to communicate socially

By stimulating as many senses as possible, these activities help Dementia patients connect with their surroundings in a more exciting way.

Plus, the increase in synapse activity promotes memory recall, like how watching an old TV show can remind us of our childhood. Or how holding a dog can remind us of a pet we had years ago.

That being said, what are some sensory activities you can do with your patients or loved ones? Read further for more.

8 Sensory Activities for Dementia Patients

1) Spend Time Outdoors

an elderly couple walking in a park

Going outside is one of the best forms of sensory activities for Dementia patients.

Go for a walk, pick flowers, lay on the beach, eat ice cream on a park bench, or do any safe outdoor activity that engages the body and mind.

Nature provides a sensory experience unlike any other, healthily stimulating our sight, smell, touch, and hearing. This experience is very important for those spending most of their time indoors, like in long-term care facilities.

2) Bring Nature Indoors

nursing home residents observing a serenity aquarium for a sensory activity

When time outside is limited, those in nursing homes and memory care units, for example, can benefit from nature-focused decor.

Aquariums and bird aviaries, in particular, offer a stimulating yet relaxing activity. Watching fish and birds can decrease disruptive behaviors and stress among Dementia patients. This observation also promotes focus, engagement, and positive mental well-being.

We service fish tanks and service aviaries in long-term care facilities, so these activities don’t require a lot of planning or work from your team. Plus, the residents cherish these animals. Many of them sit around the habitat, observe their favorite fish or birds, and engage with their fellow residents.

3) Hand Massages

stimulation therapy through hand massages

A hand massage is a great way to relax a person with Dementia. The sensation of touching hands is familiar to them, and it can encourage physical and mental relaxation.

To engage more of the senses, you could also use essential oils as you massage their hands. Calming fragrances can further stimulate the brain, inducing relaxation and increasing serotonin levels.

4) Reading Aloud

Those with Dementia may lack the ability or desire to interact socially, so you should encourage them to do so in private. As such, a common sensory activity for Dementia patients is reading aloud with them.

This way, they practice verbal communication, which may inspire them to speak more freely in social situations.

Plus, book clubs, writing workshops, and poetry readings are great ways to get groups together for healthy social interaction.

5) Music Therapy

nursing home residents in a group playing the drums

Playing familiar music for Alzheimer’s patients is one of the best ways to boost their memories.

A study conducted by Boston University in 2010, found that listening to music yields more memory recall than simple conversations. Not only that, but it may also help in learning new skills or actions.

How They Conducted the Experiment

The research group presented lyrics from children’s songs that the elderly test group has likely not heard before. Lines of lyrics were presented on a computer screen and these lyrics were sung once, spoken once, and then with no sound at all.

After listening to and reading the lyrics, they were asked if they recognized any of them. For those with Dementia and Alzheimers, hearing the lyrics sung to them yielded the most recall by far.

6) Arts and Crafts

close up of a person knitting for stimulation therapy

Another excellent sensory activity for Dementia patients is practicing arts and crafts.

Many long-term care facilities provide time for pottery, painting, drawing, and knitting, to name a few. These activities stimulate the senses, but they also promote creative thinking, which is great for mental health.

Learning new skills is like a workout for your brain. It keeps our brains “in shape” and increases our aptitude to learn more. Plus, continuous learning can improve confidence, encourage engagement, and slow down memory loss.

7) Animal Visitation Therapy

woman sitting with birman cat

Animal visitation is a common form of therapy for Dementia patients. Being able to pet, hold, or communicate with a cuddly animal is a premier way to boost someone’s serotonin.

This type of sensory therapy can also elicit memories from previous experiences. Even if it’s fleeting, those instances of memories are an important part of someone’s journey with Dementia.

8) Playing Board Games and Card Games

elderly man playing dominos as a sensory activity

Depending on the condition of your patient or loved one, many games can be used as activities.

These may not stimulate all the senses, but games like Dominoes, Scrabble, and Yahtzee help Dementia patients focus, think critically, and engage with others.

Card games are also acceptable activities for Dementia patients. Games like cribbage, hearts, and Go Fish provide similar stimulation and social engagement.

Additional Considerations for Sensory Activities

nurse and elderly person pointing on a calendar

How Often Should You Perform Sensory Activities with Dementia Patients?

Daily sensory activities will yield the best results for Dementia patients.

Just like our bodies, our brains must be active to remain sharp. And offering daily sensory activities keeps the mind occupied. This is important for all people with Dementia, regardless of their condition.

This type of mindfulness training can lessen the effects of Dementia in the short term and in the long term. In fact, continuous activity and learning may also help prevent or delay the regression involved with Dementia.

Offer Activities Related to Their Interests

You will see the best results (like positive reactions and memory recall) with activities that your patient is interested in.

Maybe this person loves motorcycles. Consider bringing in decorations related to motorcycles or putting on TV shows focused on them.

Or, perhaps bird watching was one of their favorite hobbies. Bring in soft and colorful stuffed animals for them to hold. Or, if they’re able, take them for a walk outside to listen to and search for birds.

Be Careful Not to Overstimulate

The condition of each person with Dementia is unique and should be treated as such. Watching an old TV show may bring back positive memories, but a new show with unfamiliar themes and actors may be confusing and stressful.

Also, those with Dementia should be encouraged to connect socially. But if a group is too large, too loud, or talking about unfamiliar topics, someone with Dementia may experience fatigue and agitation.

Try to understand the condition of each individual you care for. That way, you can devise a plan that gives each member the entertainment they need without overstimulation.

Final Thoughts

Since Dementia is so difficult to prevent, we need to know how to care for our loved ones or patients when it happens. As we’ve laid out in this article, there are many ways to stimulate the senses and create meaningful interaction for people with Dementia.

Our best advice is to offer as many sensory activities as they can handle on a given day. Also, try to cater each activity to subjects they’re interested in.

Seeing your loved one’s or patient’s face brighten as they recall a memory or the confidence they exude when learning a new skill is an incredible feeling. And with regular sensory therapy, these positive instances can happen much more often.