How Multi-Sensory Stimulation Can Aid Older Adults Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias

As we learn more about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, we also discover new evolving therapies to help individuals living with neurocognitive disorders. Multi-sensory stimulation has different benefits for individuals, depending on their condition, current mood, and personal needs. The benefits are so significant that organizations that care for seniors are increasingly creating multi-sensory environments.

Multi-Sensory Rooms and Environments

Multi-sensory environments can soothe, stimulate, and release stress and anxiety. They help individuals increase their ability to focus and even communicate. Some facilities create these environments, usually as a designated room, to provide a stimulus for sound, sight, smell, taste, touch, and movement. The more personalized the experience, the greater the impact on the individual.

At Miami Jewish Health’s nursing home, recreational therapy and multi-sensory therapy are used together to enhance everyday life. A multi-sensory environment projects lava lamp movement with soft lights. Fiber optic lights hang like curtains. The beauty of these environments is that the recreational therapist can customize the room to the needs of the residents. They can either calm or arouse residents to attain measurable goals. Lights are soft, and shades are drawn. Scent diffusers create a pleasant environment that is never overwhelming, but available for relaxation and positive association. Objects are strategically placed to allow touching, curiosity, and exploration. Gentle sounds and music keep a calm and healing rhythm.

Luciana Loureiro, Director of Therapeutic Recreation at Miami Jewish Health, describes results as compelling and even dramatic. “An individual in a state of agitation and distress will respond by slowly calming down. On the other hand, some individuals who become unresponsive will react in the multi-sensory environment just on curiosity or the stimulating aromas and the probing lights. Activating the senses helps residents stay engaged in positive ways. This can lessen boredom and agitation and result in much more pleasant days and experiences.” Every positive experience is essential and always encouraged.

Tips for Caregivers to Create At-Home Multi-Sensory Rooms

If you care for someone who lives with any form of dementia, some multi-sensory tactics can be set up at home. Safe-zone environments can work wonders. If you plan on setting up an area in the house, think of simple and safe. Avoid clutter and hard-to-find objects. Space should be safe without any supervision. It can also be a great place to let children engage with their grandparents. Find a permanent room or area at home that is easily accessible. Use blinds and thicker curtains to block out sunlight during the day. You will want a completely blacked out room to facilitate projections and to control the light.

Items you might want to consider adding include:

  • sofa or recliners, ottoman, small table, chair
  • weighted blankets for calming
  • electric diffusers – try using scents of foods (cookies, fruits, chocolate)
  • a personalized music selection, including nature sounds
  • lava lamps and bubble tubes
  • safe, multi-textured objects with tactile elements (buttons, zippers, pockets)
  • projecting lights, stars, and movement
  • squish balls
  • familiar movies and television shows

Meaningful engagement and stimulation enhances quality of life and inhibits depression. It allows for people living with dementia to “just be.” If you’ve witnessed the power of music, imagine what adding movement, visuals, and scents can do.

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