An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can come with many unexpected challenges. One such challenge is navigating the many common sensory changes that can occur at various stages of the disease. The mind’s ability to interpret sensory information may deteriorate even while physical capabilities remain intact.
It is easy to fall into the same old routine of maintaining and managing basic daily necessities such as meals and hygiene. As a caregiver, it can be helpful to take the time to learn how to engage your loved one’s five senses in the context of their changing capabilities. Here are some of our favourite creative ways to stimulate and nurture all five senses – taste, sight, hearing, sound and smell.
Some ideas will be more or less appropriate for your loved one depending on what stage of Alzheimer’s disease they are currently living with. Choose the ideas that make the most sense for them and for you!
Cook a dish that resonates with them like a long time family recipe or something they might have eaten as a child. The familiar flavour might trigger certain emotions.
Explore foods with bold flavours like sweet, sour, tart, or umami. Different flavoured Jell-o is a great option and the bold colours related to the flavours enhance the experience further.
Create or find a playlist of their favourite music. If you already know the songs, you can create one yourself on Spotify or YouTube, or find a pre-made playlist on Spotify like this one which has some of the top hits of the 50s – who knows, maybe you’ll even get some dancing! If you want them to have access even when you’re not there, you can burn a CD and leave it in a CD player. Just leave some instructions by the CD player for them to press play and enjoy!
Play nature sounds in the background. Depending on the stage of an individual’s Alzheimer’s, their access to nature may become more and more limited. Bring along your phone to play nature sounds like this one for your loved one. You can find plenty of others on YouTube and can even search for specific sounds like water, birds, or rain. Another way to bring nature into the home would be to buy fake plants that don’t need tending to.
Rediscover old photos or books of nature and art. While their memory may struggle, the experience of sitting alongside you and having a shared experience creates a bond. As well, certain images may spark old emotions.
Bring along some markers and adult colouring books. During Alzheimer’s the ability of the brain to interpret visual cues can deteriorate. The deeply saturated colours of markers ensure strong contrast and can be a useful form of stimulation
Purchase an essential oil diffuser. Unlike candles, these are wonderful since you can set a timer to make sure they turn off. Essential oils can also have different effects so choose ones that might bring joy or peace to your loved one.
Head to the flower shop! Allow your loved one to smell the different flowers and make a bouquet to bring home for themselves to carry the experience into their daily lives.
Offer your loved one a manicure or a pedicure. This activity can be an excursion to a salon, or an activity you do on your own at home. Keep in mind that what constitutes a manicure or a pedicure ranges from simply moisturising hands and nail care to a massage or even nail polish application! Go as far as you are comfortable going.
Guide their hands in an activity like baking. Keep in mind that the outcome of whatever activity you choose doesn’t matter – it is about the experience. This can also be something simple like guiding their hand along a book with different fabrics for them to experience.
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