Multi-sensory Stimulation Therapy

Our senses; sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing, connect our minds with the world around us.  Many older adults experience difficulties with some of the senses. When this happens to a person with memory loss or a related disorder it can contribute to some of the confusion he/she is experiencing.  Even at an advanced stage of dementia a person may still derive enjoyment from pleasant sensations. Benefits include such things as increased socialisation, increased concentration, improved self-awareness and increased alertness. With any new activity it is important to introduce it slowly to avoid overwhelming the individual and bear in mind the individual may be more receptive at different times of the day or on different days. It should also be noted that any stimulation should be tailored to the individual and not everyone will react the same to each stimuli.

Sometimes Multi-sensory Stimulation Therapy is described as ‘Snoezelen.’  This approach involves providing a variety of sensory stimulation. Often special equipment is used such as lava lamps, aromatherapy burners, tactile materials etc.  Low cost alternatives are feasible and this approach is applied in a variety of settings and formats (e.g. groups or one to one sessions). Some ideas below can easily be adopted at home and link into Reminiscence Therapy.  

Smells – can connect us to our past and bring back memories. Think of how you feel when you smell a warm batch of bread baking in the oven or baking in general.  Other smells to try include coffee, lavender, orange, ginger, rose water, perfume or aftershave, vanilla, herbal tea, mint, cinnamon, herbs or baby powder.

Sight – use bright, fun or soft colours but avoid using complex patterns which might be confusing for a person with dementia. Look at pictures or watch tv shows or DVDs consisting of beautiful scenery, animals or beautiful lights. Make a memory book from old family photographs and old local photographs.

Touch – including their personal preferences for physical touch. Consider giving someone a manicure, doing their hair or giving a massage.  If a person enjoys pets then holding or touching an animal can be very therapeutic.  Identify everyday objects in a deep ‘rummage bag’ or pieces of material of different textures.  You could also pick something out of a basin of water, such as soap or a sponge.  These can also help strengthen a person’s hands.

Hearing – although many older adults have hearing impairments, it can be beneficial to listen to sounds. Listening to music, sounds of nature, singing, or poetry can all be enjoyable. Recent research using headphones and an iPod and using a person with dementia’s favourite music has been found to have a positive effect on mood for some time afterwards. It is important to remember to keep the noise level controlled as you don’t want to make the person feel anxious or unsettled.  Playlist for Life, the core work of this organisation is to encourage families and other caregivers to offer people with dementia a thoughtfully compiled and highly personal playlist, delivered on an mp3 media player device such as an iPod, of the music that has been meaningful to them during their life.  Through their website they offer guidance that can help individuals to get started

Taste – share tastes from the past and prepare together. Sweets and special drinks in moderation can be a nice treat.

Theme Kits – for example put together kits to remember Christmas, summer holidays, schooldays etc.

Other Resources

Alzheimer Scotland Activities Library.  A practical resource which aims to promote improved wellbeing and mental health for people with dementia. It will achieve this through the availability of suitable and age appropriate activity equipment for hire for short periods of time that will help people to continue current skills, relearn old skills or gain new skills. These activity items will help to stimulate the person and supplement any Cognitive Stimulation Therapy that the person may have undertaken.

East Dunbartonshire Photo Library shows some interesting photographs which could be useful conversation starters or reminiscing.