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Monday, April 19, 2010

Sensory ideas for those with dementia and others

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Susan Berg, dementia healthcare professional, activity director and author, asked me to talk about the 5 senses and how they relate to activities for those with Alzheimer's disease and dementia
Here goes

Auditory
Hearing is probably the easiest one to stimulate.... a simple bedside radio will do. It's even better if you have access to a cassette or CD player, but that's not always feasible. Tune the radio in to music or a station that you know the resident likes; alternate if you're not sure. If you do have access to a cassette or CD player, why not try some unusual sounds, a different type of music, or books on tape? I personally own a CD of Indian drums music, and was surprised to find that several of my residents enjoyed it- in fact, we now play it in the dining room every few months! Another CD I enjoy playing is one of wedding music- this gets the discussions going with those who can reminisce, and even those who can't verbalize thier thoughts seem to enjoy the music. Of course, other items create sounds, too- bells, windchimes, birds, sound machines, and tabletop water fountains. Any pleasant sound can bring back a memory or make an enjoyable activity, either as independent activities, during 1-1 visits, or even in small groups.

Visual
Creating something interesting to look at is not only good for your residents, but can be fun as well. Changing decorations in the hallways and bulletin boards helps with reality orientation, serves as PR for the activity department, and adds some color to the facility. The same goes for decorating the rooms of residents who spend much of their time in bed. Mobiles, posters, and calendars are very much needed in these rooms. For lower functioning residents, photo albums work well as a sensory stimulation tool. The albums can feature personal photos, colorful pictures, greeting cards, or anything else that might be appropriate. Catalogs, magazines, even some picture books can also be used. In my facility, the activity assistant uses the art work that the younger MR residents create during 1-1 visits-- each resident receives a new, colorful picture during their visit. This gives the residents something new to hang on their walls, serves as a reminder of the recent visit, and, at the same time, gives us a use for the dozens of pictures created by our younger residents. I also discovered another visual activity quite by accident. On my office computer, I have an Anne Geddes screen saver. (Anne Geddes photographs babies and young children in colorful scenes.) The changing pictures of babies intrigued some of my residents- one came to my office every day for weeks just to see the "babies"!

Smell
What scents do you find pleasant? What scents do you find hard to stand? Start there, and you will find many scented items with which to stimulate your residents. Allow a resident to smell the scent in a container if that is possible, that way you can remove it quickly if the resident finds it disagreeable. You can also dab the scent on a tissue or cotton ball, or you can apply a drop or two of the scent to the resident's hand or wrist. We've all used colognes, body sprays, and scented lotions during our 1-1 visits. Try some of these ideas for something different:
* car air fresheners
* coffee or tea- serve it, or just enjoy the scent of it
* pine branches
* a bag of fresh cut grass (beware of allergies!)
* baby powder, lotion, shampoo
* fresh baked bread (plug in a breadmaker for this one)

Taste
Diet orders, feeding rules, allergies... all of these can make providing stimulating tastes something we'd rather leave up to the kitchen staff. However, there are some simple tasting activities that can be fun and easy:
* Schedule a "Taste Test" once a month. We've tasted all sorts of things- clear flavored sodas, kiwi fruit, coffees, craisins, Oreo cereal, etc. We try to find something the residents haven't had before, then give each participant just a bite or two- enough to taste it, but not enough to count as a real snack.
* Use a breadmaker. This creates a wonderful smell, and the anticipation of the homemade treat is half the fun!
* Provide Juice Carts weekly, monthly, daily... whenever you can. This helps out with hydration issues, as well as making it easy to involve residents who don't attend group activities. We stock up on sugar-free drink mixes, and occasionally serve soda, as well.

Tactile
The sense of touch is another one that is easy to stimulate. The caring touch or hug provided to a receptive resident can be greatly appreciated. Many objects lend themselves to tactile stimulation. The idea here is to provide the resident with safe objects that have textures that are different from the blankets and chairs they touch in everyday life.
Try these:
* a gentle hand massage
* a supervised visit with a soft, furry animal
* soaking hands in warm, scented water
* reaching into a shallow pan of rice or sand to find "treasures"
You can also use a variety of objects during 1-1 visits: *
sandpaper of various types, wood blocks, stuffed animals, pine cones, flowers, and small plants, model cars or airplanes, Koosh balls, kitchen utensils- potato masher, whisk, etc.
Talk about these objects, ask the resident how they feel, or have the resident try to identify the object without looking at it.

What do you think?

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