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20 Feb 2019

Sensory Activities Can Help Aid Memory: Here's How

Sensory Activities Can Help Aid Memory: Here's How

The concept of sensory stimulation is to use everyday objects to help awake the senses - hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch - with the main goal of doing so being to create positive feelings. For elderly people who suffer from memory loss due to various reasons, including dementia, everyday objects that evoke the senses can help to trigger emotions and memories, helping them to better connect with the world around them.


A therapeutic practice since the 1960s, sensory activities were originally designed to help people with learning disabilities connect and communicate in a safe, stimulating environment whilst enjoyable activity. In dementia care, sensory activities can work to soothe anxiety or stress, making it easier for individuals to listen, concentrate or take on board information.

Ways Sensory Stimulation Can Affect Alzheimer’s

As Alzheimer’s progresses, a persons’ ability to communicate and perform everyday activities declines. Providing a new form of expression when communication is a challenge can help them feel safe and relax, and help improve mood, self-esteem and well-being. Additionally, by drawing attention to a particular item, sensory stimulation encourages memories and responses from elderly people living with a condition like Alzheimer’s.

For example; art and pictures can trigger emotions and memories for people who no longer speak. A person who has trouble expressing themselves might suddenly smile or want to pick up a pencil and draw. That art form can potentially become a means for the person to communicate, either through personal works of art or simply by reacting to the visual stimuli.

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.

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.

Everyday Sensory Cues

  • Sensory stimulation works best when it uses familiar objects and focuses on one sense at a time. Good sensory cues include:
  • Familiar, odorous foods
  • Natural materials, such as flowers
  • Sensory-rich materials, such as clothing, sensory blankets or fidgeters
  • Sensory Stimulation Activities
  • Activities involved in sensory stimulation are often linked to interests the person had prior to dementia, and can help build a connection to everyday life. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, sensory stimulation activities might include:
  • Bringing in objects the person does not normally have around, such as sand, seashells or other items
  • Giving a hand massage
  • Taking a short walk
  • Talking and reading aloud to the person
  • Providing a change of scenery by taking a trip outdoors

Depending on how the person reacts, the carer might alter the activity or switch to a different sense to find the stimuli that is going to inspire a positive response.
Sensory stimulation is intended to bring enjoyment to people with the disease, reduce their anxiety and depression, and increase their social interaction. Those shared experiences and memories can help bring people back to a time that they remember fondly, which can help them feel meaningful and connected again.

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.

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