Advice Mind & Memory Care

How Sensory Stimulation Can Help Those with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Woman doing sensory therapy

Dementia impacts brain function, and while Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of the condition, there are other types, such as Lewy body and vascular dementia. Regardless of the type, dementia affects a person’s cognitive abilities, such as memory, thinking and social skills.

Several Benchmark Senior Living communities offer Mind & Memory Care, and which keeps the unique needs of those with dementia, close to our hearts. Our care teams meet residents where they’re at in the disease’s progression and tailor programming to help them find joy in each day. In addition, an essential pillar of our program is to foster meaningful connections between residents and associates. We do this by creating personalized care plans for every resident and incorporating evidence-based strategies to help residents live to the fullest.

Sensory stimulation is a strategy we use in our research-backed programming, which initiates joyful experiences for our residents. Stimulating the senses involves engaging residents through touch, taste, sound, scent, and imagery. Additionally, some types of sensory stimulation may help residents recall memories.

Why is Stimulating the Senses Important in Memory Care?
Those of us without Alzheimer’s or dementia experience constant sensory stimulation throughout the day, from going to work, running errands, or performing daily tasks. These stimuli trigger activity in our brains and help us interact with the world. Humans need sensory stimulation to thrive. However, dementia impacts sensory stimulation and may cause a person to disengage from others and what’s happening around them. The condition also makes it harder for a person to communicate, which can cause agitation and affect caregiving. Memory stimulation, a specific kind of sensory stimulation, engages the senses to help a person recall memories.

Research published in Clinical Interventions in Aging determined that “sensory and memory stimulation therapies have the potential to help improve many dementia-specific issues for individuals living in long-term care settings.”

Sensory Stimulation May Improve Sleep Disturbances
Additionally, it is common for those with dementia to have sleeping problems, affecting their quality of life and behavior. According to a study published in Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, sleep-wake cycle disruption may contribute to behavioral disturbances and “accelerate disease progression in dementia.” The study concluded that sensory stimulation might improve sleep among those with dementia.

Dementia Can Induce Fear and Anxiety
Another challenge of Alzheimer’s and dementia is that it can cause a person to become fearful and anxious. Fear and anxiety can prevent a person from trusting caregivers, making it more difficult for associates to create meaningful connections and determine a resident’s needs. These negative feelings may also cause someone with memory loss to withdraw socially, sparking a sense of isolation.

How Benchmark Associates Use Sensory Stimulation While Caring for Residents
As research shows that sensory stimulation can improve the quality of life for those with dementia, we use it often in our Mind & Memory Care programming. For instance, our associates engage residents with personalized boxes that hold mementos from their past, such as photos and items that may spark fond memories. Associates may also ask residents questions that invite conversation and connection.

As our associates have made meaningful connections with our residents through memory and sensory stimulation, we implemented a Creating Zen pilot program aimed at improving our residents’ wellbeing even more. The program dedicates an entire room to memory and sensory stimulation. One to two Creating Zen sessions are run every day, and a maximum of four residents participate in each one to ensure enjoyment for all participants.

Creating a Calming Environment
The first step in implementing Creating Zen is to set up the room with relaxing sounds or music, dim lighting, comfortable seating and pleasing scents. Then an associate leads a sensory program. There are many program options, such as guided meditation, reading inspirational stories, hand massages, sensory apps on tablets, bird watching and more. Each one is designed to stimulate one or more senses, evoke positive feelings, and conjure memories.

Associates have shared positive outcomes with our Creating Zen program, reporting that it facilitates communication and connection between residents and associates. The methods used in Creating Zen help our residents express their needs, connect with the things that matter to them and experience joy. Dementia symptoms can be challenging, but Benchmark is dedicated to ensuring the happiness of our residents by using different techniques to help them experience joy—no matter their stage of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Learn more about Mind & Memory Care at Benchmark. We also invite you to schedule a tour by calling us at 888-907-4661.

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