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IKF Blog
Posted: Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Sensory Stimulation and Alzheimer’s: 5 Ways to Communicate When Words Aren’t Possible

Families with a loved one who are living with Alzheimer’s may find communication becomes more difficult as the illness progresses. Yet there are several different ways that they can still connect with each other, even if words become impossible.

One idea you might want to consider is the use of sensory stimulation.

When our senses are aroused, certain memories or positive feelings may be evoked. You’ve likely had this experience. For example, perhaps you smelled warm, fresh bread baking and immediately thought of your grandmother in the kitchen. Or you might have heard a favorite song from years ago and were instantly taken back to a specific time and place in your mind.

The same response can occur for those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Sensory stimulation can allow them to express themselves positively. Providing them with the opportunity to feel the emotions once again from a past memory can be a priceless gift.

What is sensory stimulation?

This occurs when one or more of a person’s senses are activated, including:

  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Touching
  • Tasting
  • Smelling

Benefits of sensory stimulation

The advantages of stimulation to those living with Alzheimer’s can include the following:

  • Improve the individual’s mood
  • Increase sense of self-esteem
  • Create feelings of well-being
  • Reduce agitation and anxiety
  • May encourage participation in group activities
  • Help the family still feel connected to their loved one


Alzheimer’s and sensory stimulation

If you want to try sensory stimulation with your loved one, you won’t need to look far for inspiration. You can use everyday objects to arouse the senses. The following are activities that you might want to try:

  • Cooking and tasting different foods
  • Playing games and puzzles
  • Singing
  • Playing musical instruments
  • Painting
  • Providing a hand or foot massage
  • Dancing
  • Touching items with different textures
  • Gardening
  • Smelling different scents, including spices, oils or those found in nature

Consider these 5 ways to communicate with your loved one

The following are suggestions you might want to try that can provide opportunities for stimulating different senses:

You have many options available. Walking through your home, you’ll find several objects that might trigger memories through a visual sense, including old family photos, pictures, artwork or knick knacks. A walk outside can provide limitless opportunities such as a colorful garden, trees in the summer or fall, grass or a bright blue sky.

Consider cooking or baking together, which is a favorite sensory activity for many families as it creates a wonderful time together in the kitchen. You might cook a special meal, a holiday treat, homemade bread or dessert. Not only will the olfactory senses be stimulated but there’s also the added bonus of getting to eat your delicious concoctions.

Bring in different textures and materials that can provide a wide range of stimulation. Don’t limit your options. Possibilities might include silky soft petals from flowers in your garden or the contours of a seashell. You could also try different options that connect to the person’s interests or hobbies. If the person liked to sew or work with wood, include these materials.

Explore the rich world of sound with your loved one, including reading aloud from a favorite book, listening to music together or singing a song. Go outside and listen for all the sounds that you normally have learned to tune out – traffic, birds singing or the sounds of wind blowing through chimes are only a few ideas.

Of course, part of this stimulation activity could be tasting favorite foods such as chocolate or a creamy sauce. But don’t forget all the possibilities, including options that taste sweet, sour, salty, different spices or those with a little bit of a kick. Just remember to try small bites but have fun experimenting.

Tips to increase your success

Along with choosing the activity, planning ahead and adjusting your expectations can help make your time spent together more enjoyable. Consider these tips:

  • Do your research for what they might respond to best
  • Use familiar objects
  • Focus on one sense at a time
  • Provide verbal cues
  • Remember it’s the time spent together that’s important

How a memory care community may use sensory stimulation

If your loved one is making a memory support assisted living community home, you may find the care team is utilizing this type of stimulation to assist with calming behaviors, helping their residents engage with others or to feel connected to their neighbors and friends. You may want to ask about the opportunities available and whether this might provide a helpful and positive experience for your family member.

Ingleside at King Farm Memory Support Assisted Living

We understand the importance of sensory stimulation and the benefits it can offer, including help in triggering memories and eliciting a calm or pleasant response. We use a whole-person approach when caring for our residents and tailoring the right sensory stimulation activities offers a great opportunity to help them connect with others through their own experiences.

We also understand the difficulty families may face when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s at home. As the illness progresses, the question of whether or when it may be time for memory care often surfaces. 

If you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s and find yourself faced with this question, we hope you will consider Ingleside at King Farm Memory Support Assisted Living as a trusted resource to help you find the answer. 

We are committed to providing the most compassionate care, while supporting our residents’ quality of life and independence. We provide a safe and loving environment for both your loved one and your family and our community includes the following services and amenities: 

  • Intimate and secure residential neighborhoods
  • Individual therapy and wellness programs
  • Licensed nursing staff 24/7 educated in best practices in dementia care
  • All-day dining with chef-inspired meals and stocked kitchens
  • Social integration with others in the greater community
  • Family support and education

Please visit our website or call (240) 414-8557 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized tour today.

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