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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Huelat

Harnessing the Power of Sensory Engagement as an Effective Intervention

Updated: 6 days ago

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The profound impact of sensory stimulation on individuals with dementia is truly remarkable. Take, for instance, Joe’s father, in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, who no longer recognized his own family or could communicate verbally. Despite this, he found solace in attending church each Sunday morning. Something extraordinary happened during those services. While he couldn't engage in verbal communication, he flawlessly recited the liturgy, participated in Orthodox rituals, and even socialized with fellow parishioners. It was as if a different person emerged during those sacred moments, only to retreat once the service ended. This pattern persisted until his final days.

The church service provided a sensory-rich environment, with gilded religious icons, melodic chants, the scent of burning candles and incense, and the taste of communion bread and wine. These sensory stimuli tapped into emotional memories, allowing Joe's father to connect with the liturgy and those around him. This experience is not unique; extensive research underscores the profound link between sensory engagement and emotional memory in individuals with dementia. Unlike cognitive memory, which deteriorates, emotional memory remains relatively intact.

Armed with this knowledge, caregivers can employ various sensory interventions to enhance the quality of life for their loved ones with dementia. Here are ten effective strategies:

  1. Explore photo albums and picture books together, discussing familiar people and places.

  2. Incorporate artwork into the living space, pointing out elements that may resonate with them and providing opportunities for artistic expression.

  3. Involve your loved one in cooking and baking activities.

  4. Encourage taste sampling during meal preparation.

  5. Share meals together, fostering a sense of connection and routine.

  6. Utilize fragrant soaps during bathing to stimulate the sense of smell.

  7. Play music from their youth and encourage rhythmic movements like toe tapping and hand clapping.

  8. Enjoy the soothing sounds of nature, such as birdsong or rustling leaves.

  9. Offer physical touch through hand-holding and hugs, promoting feelings of comfort and security.

  10. Keep soft, cozy blankets nearby for moments of relaxation.

Engaging the senses requires patience and persistence. Immediate results may not always be apparent, but with dedication and adaptability, caregivers can make meaningful strides in awakening their loved ones' sensory experiences. Experiment with combining different sensory activities for enhanced effectiveness and keep a journal to track progress and identify what works best. By prioritizing sensory engagement, caregivers can enrich the lives of individuals with dementia and celebrate the positive outcomes that emerge.


For more in-depth insights into the power of sensory engagement, I invite you to explore my book - "Taming the Chaos of Dementia: A Caregiver's Guide to Interventions that Make a Difference," particularly Chapter 10. Sensory Engagement. This chapter delves into why sensory interventions are effective and serves as a valuable resource for caregivers seeking sensory inspiration. Check it out for a deeper understanding of how sensory engagement can truly make a difference in the lives of those with dementia.


Barbara Huelat, a dynamic force in healthcare design, author, and speaker, generously imparts her expertise in her latest publication, ‘Taming the Chaos of Dementia.’ Drawing from her profound understanding and passion for the subject, she delivers practical wisdom on navigating dementia care with empathy and skill, transforming this complex challenge into a empowering journey. Dive into Barbara’s world at for an enriching experience.

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Apr 03

My stepfather entered dementia after a bout with cancer that effected his brain negatively in the relatively typical manner, but he went from being a fairly average piano player that required music notes to an amazingly accomplished player that was able to keep others on his floor entertained for hours, playing tunes he never played before.

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