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Exploration of the Senses

Providing families tools for interactions with loved ones

Communication is a fundamental aspect of human relationships and the way we connect with others. All too often that communication breaks down as loved-ones age and develop disabilities. Although communication disorders affect people of all ages, the prevalence and complexity of these conditions increase with age and the onset of conditions that cause cognitive decline, including stroke and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.

I recently spoke to Jana Galvin, Community Life Leader at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. She and her team of life-enhancement experts offer tools that stimulate the senses, which in turn, enhance communication and maintain, or strengthen ties with loved-ones. Here are their tips.


Exploring the Senses for People with Dementia

  • Look at personal pictures that evoke shared memories and help keep your loved-one connected with family and friends.
  • Read the newspaper/magazines/books/short stories to stimulate language use.
  • Look at pictures in an art book, which can be stimulating (bright colors, shapes, etc) and encourage discussion.
  • Look at vintage pictures of everyday activities to elicit memories (travel, nature, holidays, children, etc).
  • Go for a stroll to take in the surrounding environment. 
  • Play music through portable devices to foster singing, movement (swaying, dancing, clapping) and relaxing together.
  • Create playlists of songs based on your loved-one’s interests.
  • Provide guided meditation to promote relaxation and breathing. 
  • Create a sensory board/ box that contains a variety of materials, textures and objects to engage your loved-one.
  • Provide comforting touch (holding hands, rubbing back, brushing hair, hugging, etc)
  • Provide props to support music listening and memory sharing (Example: Play the Autumn Leaves song and bring real or fake leaves to touch).
  • Provide comforting items such as stuffed animals, dolls, and blankets.
  • Sit in the sun to feel its warmth on your skin. 
  • Offer scented lotions/essential oils/perfumes to provoke and share memories (Example: the aftershave cream that your father used to wear).
  • Scents can be tied in with touch through message.
  • Take a walk outside or open the window for fresh air.
  • Bring a tasty snack or share a special meal with special treats to mark the seasons/holidays (mulled cider, homemade gingerbread cookies—homemade recipes awaken memories).
  • Select foods that awaken the senses (fresh fruit, ice cream, juice, chocolate, warm tea, ice cold beverage).

Caution: It’s important to check with a nurse in case there are any dietary restrictions that need to be followed.


Jennifer Davis's picture

About the Blogger

Director of Communications & Brand Management

Jennifer Davis served as Director of Communications & Brand Management at Hebrew SeniorLife until June of 2019.

During her 19 years with HSL she was deeply committed to the organization’s mission to “honor our elders, by respecting and promoting their independence, spiritual vigor, dignity and choice, and by recognizing that they are a resource to be cherished.” Through an integrated approach, using both electronic and print media, she worked with the Communications team to make HSL’s diverse expertise in senior living communities, health care, research and teaching accessible...

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