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9 Sensory Activities For Dementia Patients

July 8th, 2024

Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging, but it also presents profound opportunities for enriching their lives. Sensory activities for dementia patients involve engaging the senses to promote well-being, cognitive function, and emotional health, and are delivered as part of high-quality dementia care. In this blog, we will explore the importance of sensory activities for adults with dementia, outline our top activities and their benefits, and explain why these activities are crucial for enhancing the quality of life for those living with dementia.

What Is Sensory Stimulation?

Sensory activities for dementia patients involve engaging their senses, such as sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing, in order to provide them with a meaningful and enjoyable experience. This type of therapy can help individuals with dementia to feel more connected to their environment, reduce boredom and agitation, improve mood and overall well-being, and enhance their quality of life. Sensory stimulation activities can include listening to music, looking at photos, receiving gentle massages, smelling essential oils, and tasting different foods. It is an important and effective approach in dementia care to promote cognitive function and emotional connection.

What Is The Importance Of Sensory Activities For Dementia Patients?

As cognitive abilities decline, individuals with dementia often experience changes in memory, thinking, and behaviour. This can be challenging for both the individual and anyone supporting a loved one who has dementia. Sensory activities play a crucial role in dementia care by engaging the senses to provide meaningful stimulation and improve the overall quality of life. 

9 Sensory Activities For Dementia Patients

hand holding a flower to show sensory activities for dementia

There are many stimulating sensory activities for adults with dementia. Each person is unique so it’s best to offer choice, depending on their preferences. Here, we’ve cherry picked our top sensory activities for dementia and how they may help.

Hand Massages

Massages are therapeutic for all, and the power of touch is something that can be massively beneficial for dementia patients. By applying very light pressure, a hand massage can be both relaxing and stimulating, helping to ease anxiety and stress. Reflexologists also suggest gently pressing the palm or rubbing over the knuckles to reduce or prevent agitation.

Aromatherapy

Familiar smells can trigger positive thoughts and emotions, providing comfort and a sense of familiarity. Aromatherapy refers to the use of essential oils or familiar scents to stimulate the sense of smell. There’s a wide range of scents and fragrances that can be used for different purposes. For instance, lavender is often used for its calming effect; while citrus scents can invigorate and uplift a person’s mood. Certain smells may also trigger happy memories such as if a family member used to wear a certain perfume with hints of bergamot.

Pet Therapy

Whether you’re a dog or a cat person, most households across the UK have a pet of some description. Many people when they move into residential care often reminisce of pets they once had either from childhood or from recent years. Animals used for therapy work are predominantly chosen for their calm temperament, which can include smaller animals like rabbits and guinea pigs to larger animals such as dogs. Research has shown introducing dementia patients to therapy animals improves communication, boosts overall well-being and positively impacts their mood. Plus, feeling the soft touch of an animal’s fur can have a comforting effect.

Doll Therapy

Doll therapy is where a doll is slowly introduced to a patient with the aim of improving their overall well-being. This sensory activity involves caring for and interacting with a lifelike doll to evoke positive memories and give them a sense of responsibility and purpose. Interacting with dementia therapy dolls can be particularly beneficial as it helps to manage symptoms such as ‘sundowning’ by reducing stress, and anxiety. Dolls also serve as a medium for interaction of both verbal and non verbal communication.

Arts And Crafts

As dementia progresses, some individuals lose the ability to speak and communicate, therefore being able to express themselves is crucial. Art and craft projects are fantastic creative sensory activities for dementia patients. Depending on the individual’s interests they may enjoy finger painting, pottery, knitting or drawing. This in turn, not only boosts overall well-being and improves their mood but enables new memories to be created.

arts and crafts as used in sensory activities for adults with dementia

Gardening

Spending time outdoors in the fresh air offers numerous benefits. Gardening can be done both indoors and outdoors, and typically involves various physical activities such as digging, planting and weeding. In the absence of an outdoor garden, indoor gardening can also provide opportunities to engage in sensory activities for dementia. Residents can water and prune indoor plants, plant seeds, and nurture them as they grow. Outdoor gardening provides an opportunity to enjoy the fresh air and engage in gentle exercise, which can have positive effects on mental health. Additionally, handling small tools, planting seeds, and tending to plants can improve fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. This is especially beneficial for individuals with dementia, as it helps maintain dexterity and reduces the risk of falls.

Organisation

Sorting and rummaging through objects can help stimulate organisational functions in the brain and the senses of vision and touch. Placing things such as coins, laundry, dishware, and other simple objects into correct piles can create a sense of accomplishment when a space becomes tidy and organised. Sorting based sensory activities for adults with dementia require individuals to use various skills, such as categorisation, sequencing, and problem-solving. These tasks can help maintain and stimulate cognitive functions, which are crucial for people with dementia.

Reading

A popular way to stimulate the brain is to read out loud. Unlike television or other electronic equipment, reading involves more interaction between people so it may be worthwhile choosing a book that covers a period of time that they have lived through, which might spark their interest and encourage further discussion. It could be one page, or one chapter; reading aloud can be done for any length of time. Also, as we age, many older adults suffer with declining eyesight which affects their ability to read a book themselves. This dementia sensory activity is an excellent way to encourage social interaction, promote cognitive function and offer a sense of escapism.

Music

Music is a powerful tool that can positively impact the mental and emotional well-being of older adults with dementia. Familiar songs trigger pleasant memories and serve as a starting point for conversations about life experiences. It can also help to create a more relaxing and positive atmosphere. When selecting music, it’s essential to consider the individual’s preferences and offer suggestions based on their taste in genres. Engaging in singing or dancing together can further enhance the experience. Sensory activities for dementia that centre around music can be wonderfully uplifting and also provide an outlet for expressing emotions, especially for those who may find verbal communication challenging.

The Benefits Of Sensory Activities For Dementia Patients

Sensory activities for dementia patients are a holistic way to calm and soothe an individual without using medication. It effectively reduces anxiety, calms nerves, and provides comfort. By giving people with dementia a way to express themselves, sensory stimulation can help aid relaxation and improve their overall mood, self-esteem, and give them a good quality of life.

Some of the key benefits of sensory activities for dementia care are:

  • Positive memories: As cognitive health declines, it’s important to mentally stimulate an older adult with dementia. Objects or music that have strong links to past experiences can evoke happy thoughts and have a positive effect on mental health
  • Opens up communication: When pleasant memories are brought to the forefront of their mind, this typically encourages individuals to discuss them with other residents and their caregivers, which helps to build and strengthen relationships
  • Socialisation: Sensory activities for dementia, such as music therapy or art sessions, can facilitate social interaction and communication between individuals with dementia and their caregivers by fostering a sense of community and belonging
  • Physical and mental benefits: Handling objects, participating in tactile activities, or dancing to music can improve fine motor skills. In comparison, activities that involve movement, such as gardening or dancing, promote physical exercise which is beneficial for overall health. Many sensory activities for adults with dementia are also shown to slow down cognitive decline
  • Behavioural management: Behavioural symptoms of dementia such as agitation, aggression, and frustration are common symptoms of dementia. Sensory activities for dementia patients can help manage and reduce these behaviours by providing a welcome distraction
  • Enhanced quality of life: Ultimately, the goal of dementia care is to enhance the overall quality of life for individuals. Sensory activities contribute significantly to this by providing enjoyment, promoting engagement, and creating a sense of purpose

Sensory Activities At New Care Homes

Incorporating sensory activities into daily routines is not just beneficial, it’s essential. It helps bridge the gap created by dementia, providing moments of connection, comfort, and joy. 

At New Care Homes, we embrace this approach, understanding that every sensory experience contributes to a richer, more fulfilling life for those we care for. Our Oomph! Programme is adopted across all of our care homes from Leeds and Manchester to Nottingham and Cheshire. Designed to promote well-being, our interactive and engaging activities schedule creates a positive environment for our care home residents to enjoy at their own pace.

If you’d like to find out more about the wide range of sensory activities for dementia patients we offer, or wish to visit our care homes to experience them for yourself, please get in touch and our team will be happy to show you around.