Comforting Sensory-Stimulation: Compassionate Eldercare Solutions


sensoryI had it all wrong when I ran around locking things up to keep them out of my grandfather's reach.  He had Alzheimer's Disease, and was constantly getting into things he wasn't "supposed" to.  My purse, and those of unsuspecting friends, were particular favorites.  Arriving in California in the early 1900's with a penchant for prospecting, my grandfather's elderly eyes saw gold colored lipstick cases as tantalizing treasures.  As a new caregiver, my first impulse was to whisk things away.

I now realize the beautiful objects I placed on high shelves or hung above shoulder level on walls were rarely enjoyed by my grandfather.  Like most people with Alzheimer's, he tended to direct his gaze downward, and was unlikely to have noticed my attempts at sensory stimulation.  Imagine my surprise to learn that a completely different strategy would have saved my sanity while providing pleasure and therapeutic benefit for my grandfather!

Here are some wonderful eldercare solutions I wish I had known:

Look Through Their Eyes

Walk around your elderly loved one's living quarters with your head and gaze slightly lowered.  Try to imitate their height, taking inventory from this perspective.  Do you see beautiful, familiar items?  If not, consider lowering pictures and other stimulating items until they are below shoulder height.  If photographs are not large enough for a person with decreased visual acuity to enjoy, it is easy to enlarge copies of their favorites.

Encourage Rummaging

Intentionally leave safe, enticing items in plain sight, within easy reach.

  • Set out purses filled with "treasures" to actively encourage exploration.
  • Display treasure chests, baskets filled with objects, or even open chests of drawers to delight your loved one.
  • Hang "dress-up" hats and colorful scarves from low hooks.

Entice through "In-Progress" Tasks

I often rejected my grandfather's attempts to "help" with daily household chores.  Now I realize my life as a caregiver is easier if I arrange simple, familiar tasks just for my elderly charges.  Setting out a basket of clothes and clothespins next to a low-hanging clothesline, placing a little water in a watering can next to a real (non-toxic) plant, or piling some wood next to a partially stacked pile can help your elderly person feel useful and engaged.

What are your favorite tips for safe, effective, sensory stimulation?  I would love to hear your ideas as comments on this blog!

--Christy Cuellar-Wentz