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Sensory Therapy for Alzheimer’s: Enhancing Quality of Life

Post written by BFH Staff Writer on September 29, 2023
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Sensory Therapy for Alzheimer's
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Doctors diagnosed Glen Campbell with Alzheimer’s in 2011, and he courageously shared his journey with the world.

Campbell’s successful career spanned decades and included hit songs like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Wichita Lineman.” As his disease progressed, he faced significant challenges with memory loss and cognitive function, but he continued to perform and tour, captivating audiences with his remarkable talent.

Despite the difficulties posed by Alzheimer’s, Campbell’s unwavering love for music persisted. His family and close friends rallied around him, creating a support system that allowed him to keep performing for as long as possible. He used teleprompters on stage to help him remember lyrics and relied on the support of his band members to ensure his performances were flawless.

The 2014 film “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” documented Glen Campbell’s battle with Alzheimer’s. The documentary explained his personal experience with the disease and shed light on its impact on his family. It highlighted his determination to continue performing, even as Alzheimer’s relentlessly progressed.

Throughout his journey, Campbell’s vulnerability and openness about his struggles encouraged conversations about Alzheimer’s disease and helped reduce its stigma. He became an advocate for raising awareness and supporting ongoing research to find a cure.

Sadly, Glen Campbell passed away in 2017 at 81. However, his courageous battle against Alzheimer’s and his dedication to his craft inspire others to live life to the fullest, regardless of their challenges. 

Not just Glen, Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994. His battle with the illness raised significant awareness and advocacy efforts. Even the late actor Charles Bronson, known for his roles in films like “Death Wish,” battled Alzheimer’s disease during the last few years of his life.

Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that affects millions of individuals and their families worldwide. Over 6 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, and experts say that by 2050, this number will rise to nearly 13 million individuals. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Reports say that in 2020, approximately 11.3 million family members and friends provided 15.8 billion hours of unpaid care to individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

As the disease progresses, it can lead to cognitive decline, memory loss, and behavioral changes that significantly impact the patient’s quality of life. 

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, various strategies and therapies can help manage its symptoms and improve the overall well-being of those living with the disease. One such approach to gaining recognition and success is sensory therapy.

Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease

Before exploring the benefits of sensory therapy, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disorder characterized by the accumulation of abnormal protein deposits in the brain, leading to the deterioration of nerve cells and brain tissue. This damage results in cognitive and functional impairments, including memory loss, disorientation, and difficulty with everyday tasks. A study on 40-hertz sensory stimulation found that it was well-tolerated and associated with neurological and behavioral benefits in a small group of participants with Alzheimer’s. Various care facilities and institutions are adopting sensory therapy as part of comprehensive treatment and care for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. 

The Role of Sensory Therapy

Sensory therapy, also known as sensory stimulation or multisensory therapy, is an approach that focuses on stimulating the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. The goal of sensory therapy is to engage and activate the sensory pathways in the brain, providing individuals with Alzheimer’s a means to connect with their surroundings and experiences. Here are some key ways in which sensory therapy can enhance the quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients:

Emotional Regulation:

One of the most significant challenges in Alzheimer’s care is managing the emotional and behavioral symptoms that often accompany the disease. Sensory therapy can help individuals with Alzheimer’s by providing calming and soothing sensory experiences. For example, soft music, gentle massage, or aromatherapy can positively affect mood and reduce anxiety and agitation.

Improved Communication:

Alzheimer’s disease can impair a person’s ability to communicate verbally. Sensory therapy offers alternative means of expression and connection. For instance, tactile activities like holding textured objects or engaging in art therapy can enable individuals to communicate their feelings and thoughts non-verbally.

Enhanced Cognitive Function:

Engaging the senses through sensory therapy can help stimulate cognitive function. Activities such as smelling different scents, solving puzzles, or listening to familiar sounds can trigger memories and cognitive processes, promoting mental alertness and memory recall.

Social Interaction:

Taking part in sensory therapy sessions can also foster social interaction, which is essential for maintaining a sense of connection and belonging. Group sessions where individuals with Alzheimer’s can engage in sensory activities can be beneficial.

Reduced Agitation and Restlessness:

Sensory therapy can provide an effective means of redirecting restless behavior. By offering a range of sensory experiences, caregivers can help individuals with Alzheimer’s to relax and become more engaged with their surroundings.

Enhanced Quality of Life:

Ultimately, the primary goal of sensory therapy is to improve the overall quality of life for individuals with Alzheimer’s. By addressing the disease’s emotional, cognitive, and behavioral aspects, sensory therapy can contribute to a greater sense of well-being and comfort.

Implementing Sensory Therapy

Psychiatrists can tailor sensory therapy to meet the unique needs and preferences of each individual with Alzheimer’s. Caregivers and healthcare professionals should work together to develop a personalized sensory therapy plan. This plan may include activities such as:

● Aromatherapy: Using essential oils and scents to create a calming or stimulating environment.

● Music Therapy: Playing familiar songs or soothing music to evoke positive emotions.

● Art and Craft Activities: Engaging in art projects encouraging creativity and self-expression.

● Tactile Stimulation: Providing objects with different textures to touch and explore.

● Sensory Gardens: Creating outdoor spaces with various sensory elements, such as flowers, wind chimes, and water features.

● Sensory Rooms: Designing dedicated sensory rooms with sensory equipment and tools.

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