Think about when you’re stressed or upset: What helps calm your mind and body?
For many people, coping strategies that use one or more of the five senses — touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound — are incredibly effective. The same is true for people with memory loss.
If you’re caring for a loved one with memory loss and you’ve noticed that they are more withdrawn, restless, or confrontational, sensory activities can help create a calming environment that soothes and relaxes your loved one without turning to medication.
How Sensory Activities Can Help Dementia Symptoms
As memory loss progresses, your loved one may struggle to communicate what they need or have a hard time starting activities on their own. They might feel embarrassed, frustrated, or annoyed that they need help to do things they used to do on their own.
For instance, you might have noticed that your mom, who used to be super active and involved in the community, now sleeps more to pass the time. Or maybe your dad, who used to love having the grandkids over for dinner, is now easily overwhelmed in large groups.
Research shows that sensory stimulation — anything that appeals to one of the five senses — can help your loved one feel more comfortable and relaxed, connect with the world around them, and improve overall mood, self-esteem, and well-being.
In this blog, we’ll offer a variety of activities depending on if your loved one is:
- Withdrawn or isolated
- Restless or wandering
- Confrontational or easily upset
Sensory Activities for Withdrawal and Isolation
Does your loved one find it difficult to initiate a conversation or an activity themselves? When verbal communication becomes more of a struggle, your loved one might feel isolated or bored or they may lack confidence. It might feel easier to withdraw from further conversation.
Sensory activities can encourage them to communicate and engage with the people around them as well as improve mood and overall sense of self-worth. Here are three sensory activities you can try if your loved one seems withdrawn or isolated:
- Create scent cards or jars using spices to remind them of favorite foods or places, such as fresh-baked cookies or a pine forest near their childhood home. Smell is a powerful way to access memories.
- Listen to their favorite music. Play their favorite songs, have a little singalong, or play music on simple instruments like shakers and bells. Music will help your loved one reminisce and relate to emotions and past experiences.
- Make a favorite meal, snack, or treat your loved one made for you when you were a child. Reminisce while eating it together.
Sensory Activities for Restlessness or Wandering
Sensory stimulation activities not only keep their hands and mind occupied, but the right activities also provide meaning and purpose. Here are three sensory activities you can try if your loved one is restless or wanders:
- Ask your loved one to help you fold soft towels or organize stacks of non-essential paperwork. Giving them an activity they can feel successful at can help them feel like they’re contributing to the household.
- Create a sensory activity apron with multiple textures and surfaces for tactile stimulation. It might include ribbons, buttons, snaps, yarn, zippers, ties, and fabrics with different textures to engage your loved one’s minds and fingers.
- Plan a visit to your local botanical garden. The flower scents, sound of birds, and the fresh air all combined offer a pleasant experience and positive stimulation for the senses.
Sensory Activities for Sleeplessness
Have you noticed that your loved one tries to climb out of bed multiple times after laying down? Or maybe you go to check on your mom and notice she’s lying awake and staring at the ceiling?
Sensory stimulation activities prior to bedtime can help relax the mind and ensure a peaceful sleep, leaving your loved one recharged for the next day. Here are three sensory activities you can try if your loved one is struggling with sleeplessness:
- Use this Physical Activity Planner for Memory Loss to learn how to help increase your loved one’s physical activity, which will help them sleep well later. It includes many sensory activities, such as walking outside and gardening.
- Hold special spa days at home. Do your loved one’s hair and nails and offer facial masks. Touch can leave your loved one relaxed and with a sense of being worthy of being touched.
- Play soothing music prior to bedtime.
Sensory Activities for Confrontational Encounters
Is your loved one resistant to daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, and eating? Because of the way memory loss affects the brain, your loved one may feel confused or distressed at times. While trying to make sense of what is happening, they might be more confrontational than you’re used to.
Sensory stimulating activities can help calm and reassure your loved one as well as redirect their attention to something else. Here are three sensory activities you can try if your loved one is easily upset:
- Massage hands and feet with an essential oil mixture or lotion. Massage can help calm agitation, ease the effects of isolation, and encourage feelings of worthiness and well-being.
- Read a poem or part of a book that has meaning to them. Even if your loved one doesn’t understand what is read, the tone and rhythm of your voice may help them feel in safe hands.
- Play movies or slideshows featuring abstract, calming images, such as slowly animated shapes and colors, or scenes from nature along with relaxing music for a calming effect.
Not only can sensory activities help support your loved one, but you also may find the quality of the time you spend with your loved one improves.
For more sensory activity ideas, download our Sensory Checklist for Memory Loss. You’ll learn more about how to use visual, verbal, and tactile cues to support your loved one’s current abilities as well as how to address any sensory changes they’re experiencing.