Research suggests that there is much benefit to be gained by continuing to stimulate our senses through the dementia disease process, as it has been shown to help reduce common symptoms of the disease such as agitation, aggression, wandering and provide comfort and improve emotional wellbeing.
Our senses are wonderful things which help us to understand and make sense of the world around us. The feedback received from each of our senses—vision, auditory, touch, taste, smell and movement—provides essential information to the brain about things such as survival, pleasure and pain. However, it is common that dementia can cause each of our senses to become impaired, depending on the type and stage of the disease.
However, research suggests that there is much benefit to be gained by continuing to stimulate our senses through the dementia disease process, as it has been shown to help reduce common symptoms of the disease such as agitation, aggression, wandering and provide comfort and improve emotional wellbeing.
In the later stages of dementia confusion and cognitive decline can leave individuals feeling lost and withdrawn and communial environments like aged care facilities can make it difficult to access the multi-sensory stimulation that we are all accustom to that helps our bodies orientate themselves to everyday routine activities such as when to wake and sleep, meal times, even the periods of the day when we would normall be productive and work.
Despite most residential care homes being bussling environments with facility staff busily going about their day tasks, I liken it to that of morning rush hour at the central train station, where everyone has a sole focus on the destination they need to reach by a certain time and with very little meaningful interaction taking place.
There is often a significant lack of individual resident engagement beyond the standard morning personal care. Now don’t get me wrong, many facilities have wonderful activities such as bingo, word games, bowling or even external entertainment, which are great for those residents that are cognicent enough to enjoy and partake. It is those residents that have shorter attention spans or in the mid to later parts of the disease that can often be forgotten on the monthly activity schedule and for these residents insufficient stimulation can result in isolation, depression and complete withdrawal. Such lack of appropriately pitched stimulation can manifest in wandering, sleep disturbance and distress. Equally too much stimulation can result in some residents feeling overwhelmed and acting out.
It is imperative that we are offering our residents a variety of appropriately pitch activities and an environment that is appropriate for the individual’s needs, that promotes improved cognitive function, helps maintain self-care abilities and offers them suitable opportunities to be engaged through all our senses. So how are we best placed to promote a Sensory Care Home?
Varied levels of sensory stimulation should be provided throughout the facility to help residents remain orientated and engaged and offer opportunities for residents to self modulate their amount of stimulus. Daily activities that stimulate a number of senses and can be titrated in intensity can be easily integrated into a residents care plan in accordance with a residents mood and physical or emotional needs. For example afternoon wandering can often be circumvented completely with a well planned opportunity for engagement and sensory stimulation in the early afternoon, such as remeniscience with a photo book, familiar sounds such as birds or and smells such as lavender or pepemint. The level of stimulation a resident requires is individually dependent and possibly time dependent. Snoozlen type rooms have been soon to be hugely effective in some residents particularly in later stages of the disease where the requirement for single stimuli maybe more effective then mutilple.
By working together the care-workers, divertional therapists and residents we can stimulate each of the senses and keep the individual happy and healthy. Deafness and visual impairment can increase isolation, so make sure they are tested regularly and any hearing or visual aids are functional and up to date.