Dementia can cause feelings of anxiety, agitation, and even anger in seniors. However, enjoyable activities that engage their senses can help them stay calm, relaxed, and comforted.
Sensory therapy is an effective approach that reduces anxiety and soothes nerves through simple touch-based activities. Keeping hands occupied with these types of soothing, repetitive tasks can also help minimize restless behaviours like constant hand-wringing or clothing-plucking that dementia patients often exhibit.
Adapting Everyday Home Activities for Sensory Stimulation
Baking is a great example of an everyday activity that can be adapted to engage the senses. Seniors with dementia can share memories of favourite homemade treats, look through old recipe books, use their hands to measure, mix, knead and roll dough, smell the scent of delicious ingredients, and then enjoy eating the tasty results!
Provide supervision and support as needed for safety around kitchen tools and appliances. Folding laundry like towels and t-shirts is a simple but calming activity that provides a soothing sense of contributing to household chores.
It doesn’t matter if the folding technique is imperfect – the tactile experience itself and seeing the neat stack of folded items is what matters. Pattern blocks and boards are childhood toys that provide sensory stimulation through sight, touch and shape-matching.
But if matching the right blocks to outlines becomes frustrating, encourage open-ended creativity instead. Knitting, crocheting or lace-making are terrific sensory hobbies if your loved one enjoyed them in younger years, as they utilize muscle memory and repetitive motion.
Use large-gauge needles and brightly coloured yarns tailored to any physical limitations. Sorting through a junk drawer triggers memories as items are handled and provide plenty of sensory stimulation. Shuffling and arranging playing cards is calming and satisfying, even if structured card games are too difficult to follow.
Creating New Sensory Experiences
Get creative and make a “fidget box” filled with various items to squeeze, stroke, wind up and fiddle with, like textured rubber balls, old zippers, chunky buttons on cord, or wind-up toys. Let your loved one explore different tactile sensations. Sorting office supplies like pens into working vs. non-working piles is both purposeful and sensory.
No-paint painting pads reveal colourful images when brushed with plain water – colours fade as water evaporates, allowing the experience to be repeated endlessly.
Cuddle cushions and textured blankets provide warmth along with different tactile surfaces to touch and hold. Scent boxes filled with everyday aromas like cloves, coffee beans, vanilla, and lemon can spark memories.
Placing personally familiar items like coins, photos, or fidget toys in their pockets allows soothing sensory stimulation anytime. Wooden puzzles with chunky, easy-to-grasp pieces provide satisfying stimulation when solving them.
Bringing the Beach Indoors for Sensory Play
Use items like seashells, pebbles, plastic sea creatures, and recordings of ocean waves and seabird sounds to create an indoor beach scene. Add “ocean” water in a tub or plastic pool for sensory play. Take off shoes and socks and soak your feet in a mini “ocean” for a beachy foot bath.
Adapting familiar home activities to purposefully engage the senses can provide much-needed stimulation and comfort for seniors with dementia. With some simple yet creative modifications, everyday household tasks can become engaging sensory experiences. Tactile, hands-on activities keep minds, bodies and senses involved in meaningful ways.