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What Is Sensory Therapy and How Does It Help Those with Alzheimer’s?

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Does this ever happen to you: You walk into a room, and the smell of someone’s perfume or something cooking suddenly transports you to memory, recreating a moment as vividly as a home movie? It’s often said that our sense of smell creates the strongest memory recalls, but in truth, all our senses help us build and recall memories.

At its core, Sensory Stimulation Therapy, also known as Sensory Therapy, uses our innate ability to recall and create memories from our sense of smell, sight, hearing, touch, and taste. Originally developed in the 1960s to help people with learning disabilities, Sensory Therapy also helps people cope with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and many forms of dementia, Sensory Therapy helps reduce stress and works to remind those with dementia of the positive and joyful times in their lives.

As memory loss progresses, the ability to interact and perform daily tasks diminishes. Sensory Therapy works to increase the awareness and positive emotional responses of those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Intended to bring enjoyment to your loved one, Sensory Therapy reduces signs of anxiety and depression, while decreasing agitation and improving sleep patterns.

Many memory care programs use Sensory Therapy as a care technique and have seen a lot of success in bringing happiness and stability to their residents. Once understanding the basic practices and techniques, you too can use this care approach when assisting your loved one.

View or Create Art

Sensory Therapy strives to activate all the senses and stimulate the brain. When we look at or begin to create a piece of art, we are challenged to hone our eye for detail, line, and symmetry. Observing different textures, colored patterns, and unfamiliar points of view can charge the brain in a positive way.

When creating artwork, we are able to express ourselves in a way we might not be able to otherwise. Perhaps your loved one struggles to communicate verbally. By drawing or painting, your loved one may be able to release some anxiety and stress that is not possible through verbal communication.

When creating art with your loved one, ask them to pay special attention to the material they are using, taking note of the texture of the paint, the softness of the graphite, the flexibility of the clay. Using different materials can help stimulate memories as well as the imagination.

Take a Scenic Walk

By taking a calm walk in a beautiful setting, such as by the beach, your loved one’s senses will be charged with pleasant stimuli. Your loved one will hear the calming sounds of the waves, smell the aroma of the ocean, and will feel the smooth sand beneath their feet.

When the weather becomes crisp in autumn and the leaves vibrantly change colors, taking a walk to get some fresh air will provide a splendid visual experience. Walking in nature also provides a comforting auditory experience, with sounds such as birds chirping and the leaves crunching.

Wherever you walk, the point is that your loved one is experiencing a calm but stimulating environment that differs from the limited stimuli of his or her home.

Prepare a Familiar Meal

For many, our time in the kitchen is the most memorable. During the holidays and other special gatherings, the meals we make can work like a glue to help fix our most meaningful memories in place.

By cooking a recipe that was once your loved one’s specialty, you can help bring back a sense of comfort to the individual. Whether it be a holiday or birthday treat, the memories associated with the meal may generate a meaningful conversation. You just may trigger a memory that had been stored away for quite some time, giving new life to your loved one’s day and enhancing his or her emotional experience.

It is important to note, Sensory Therapy is not a treatment for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Rather, this is a care approach to help enrich your loved one’s well-being. By implementing this tactic, we bring our loved ones back to a sentimental time, adding to their overall quality of life. Don’t hesitate to ask the care staff at a memory care program for more tips on easing your loved one’s stress.