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Sensory Stimulation for Alzheimer’s

Benefit Art Therapy Home Care San Diego Caregiver with Senior

Alzheimer’s disease remains the most common neurodegenerative disease in the United States.  It has a devastating impact on people’s lives and is the 6th highest cause of death.  It is very traumatic to see a loved one pass away from Alzheimer’s.

Thankfully, a form of treatment known as sensory stimulation can help manage this debilitating illness.  People with Alzheimer’s tend to gradually disconnect from the world around them.  Sensory stimulation techniques can help a person with Alzheimer’s reconnect with those around them and get more enjoyment out of life.

This article will explain how sensory stimulation for Alzheimer’s and why it can be effective for managing Alzheimer’s disease.

What is Sensory Stimulation?

Sensory stimulation therapy (SST) uses everyday objects to trigger memories and emotions in patients with severe cognitive decline.  It was initially developed in Europe in the 1960’s to treat people with learning disabilities.

Researchers later discovered that sensory stimulation therapy could have a positive effect on other conditions including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, brain injuries and autism.

In technical terms, sensory stimulation uses neural plasticity mechanisms to recover nervous system and brain function. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form new neural connections or alter the strength of existing connections.

Neuroplasticity allows neurons in the brain to compensate for injury and disease, and to form new connections.  These mechanisms are very useful for treating diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s, where certain parts of the brain have been damaged.

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses into the later stages, patients can find it difficult to perform simple tasks and communicate with other people.  This leads to social isolation, depression and self-esteem problems.  Sensory stimulation therapy gives elderly patients a new way to communicate and helps them feel connected with the world around them.

Even when an elderly person with Alzheimer’s can no longer communicate well, drawing their attention to certain items or senses can trigger exciting and comforting memories.  By triggering those memories the brain’s neural plasticity mechanisms are utilized.  In some cases, patients can begin communicating with the people around again them after frequent sensory stimulation.

What Kinds of Sensory Stimulations are Used?

Any kind of sensory stimulation can achieve a positive outcome including:

  • Touch (Tactile sensory stimulation)
    Touching familiar objects can bring back memories and emotions for a person afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. Touching objects with different shapes, textures and temperatures can also affect the brain.
  • Sight (Visual sensory stimulation)
    Visual stimulus is one of the most effective methods for trigger memories and emotions. Films, photographs, paintings, and drawings can all be effective.  Bright light therapy can also be used to help a person with Alzheimer’s sleep and improve their mood.
  • Hearing (Auditory sensory stimulation)
    People’s voices, musical recordings, singing and speeches can all affect a person with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Taste (Gustatory sensory stimulation)
    Certain foods can trigger a response — particularly foods that the elderly person is familiar with.
  • Smell (Olfactory sensory stimulation)
    Smells from a variety of sources can trigger a response including food, perfume and flowers.

The Benefits of Familiar Surroundings

Sensory stimulation is particularly effective when the stimulatory input is familiar to the elderly person — familiar sounds, smells, sights and objects.

Home care can help a person with Alzheimer’s disease stay in their home for as long as possible and remain surrounded by the objects, sounds and smells that they know.  The benefits of staying in the home include:

  • Being surrounded by familiar furniture, carpet and other features in the home
  • Seeing small objects, paintings, photographs, drawings, and other visual stimuli around the home regularly
  • Enjoying familiar views outside of the home and access to a familiar outdoor area
  • Enjoying the smell and taste of home-cooked meals prepared in the family kitchen

Caregivers can also provide a range of activities to stimulate the brains of elderly clients including:

  • Walking them around the local area
  • Reading their favorite books to them
  • Showing them photographs and talking to them about the people in those photographs
  • Bringing in natural materials from the garden, like familiar flowers and plants
  • Giving them familiar objects to touch and hold
  • Playing music which they are familiar with
  • Using aromatherapy in the home
  • Giving them a hand massage
  • Helping the senior to perform art therapy
  • Playing card games or board games with the senior to engage many senses simultaneously

These activities can help keep a person afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease stay in touch with the world and enjoy their life.

We hope you enjoyed this article on sensory stimulation for Alzheimer’s.  If you have any questions about Alzheimer’s disease or you want to discuss our home care services, contact All Heart Home Care at 619-736-4677.  We offer in-home consultations and would love to discuss the many home care services available.

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