Thursday 21 July 2016

Creating a sensory activity for adults living with Dementia

My husband has recently started a new job as an activities coordinator at a nursing home. He has worked as a support worker for many years now and has sung at a number of Dementia Cafes in our local area. I also work as a Shared Lives Carer and support a lady living with Dementia. You can find out more about our caring roles in my recent "It's Cool to be Kind" blog post.

a selection of herbs and flowers used in a sensory activity

As part of his activities coordinator role he devises ideas to stimulate the residents who live at the nursing home. Many of whom have limited sight, poor hearing and often live with dementia. One of the key features of his job is to promote discussion and stimulate old memories in order to try and keep minds as active as possible.

The home where my husband is the activities coordinator subscribes to the Daily Sparkle, a great tool for carers working with the elderly or dementia patients. The Daily Sparkle features evocative images, quizzes and reminiscence articles - all designed to stimulate memories and conversation.

collection of roses, lavender and homegrown herbs used in sensory activity

Taking this idea forward, he decided to create a sensory activity using plants from our garden and allotment. Fragrance and memory can be closely linked, certain smells often act as a trigger in recalling a long-forgotten event or experience.

homegrown rose used in a sensory activity aimed at adults living with Dementia

At the start of the week I helped him put together a selection of plants...these included:
- A highly fragrant rose
- Sprig of Jasmine
- Bunch of Lavender
- Handful of mint from our allotment
- Fresh Sage
- Fresh Oregano
- A few branches of Rosemary

homegrown jasmine used in sensory activity

It is true that your sense of smell can decline as you get older, but we chose plants with the strong scents. My husband also encouraged the residents to crush the plants, particularly the herbs, to release the smell. The sensory activity using fragrant plants proved to be popular. Those with the ability to see closed their eyes and tried to guess the name of the plant they were holding. Many of the residents have limited sight, so this activity was good for them because other senses like scent become more important.

Also, with limited mobility, some residents cannot access the garden at the home - so the opportunity to smell fresh plants was a pleasant experience for many. As an avid gardener myself, I take the scent of freshly dug soil, cut grass and floral scents for granted. If I were to lose my mobility or sight, then having fresh plants bought closer to me would be an important part of improving my quality of life.

rose, sage and jasmine used in nursing home sensory activity

I thought the large rose would prove to be the most popular scent. I was surprised when my husband told me it had been the fresh Sage that had prompted the most discussion. Many of the residents recalled cooking with the herb, particularly to make Sage and Onion stuffing for Sunday roasts and Christmas dinner. Before the days of packaged food, most people would have used fresh herbs in their cooking.

It's actually really lovely the Sage evoked memories of family meals. I think it's easy to forget elderly people living in nursing homes once had busy lives, running a home, possibly cooking with small children at their feet, multitasking - something many of us are familiar with. I'm glad the Sage from our garden bought back happy memories of families gathered around the dining table.

My husband and I recently signed up to the Dementia Friend initiative. The Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme is their biggest ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of dementia. Please visit the Dementia Friends website and take a few minutes to watch the video or attend an information session in your local area. And then hopefully you will pledge to become a Dementia Friend and help to support people in your community.

This week I'm linking up with these lovely blogs:
"Happy Days Linky" over on and
"Sharing the Blog Love" over on and
"The List" over on and
"Blogger Club UK" over on, and
"Making Home" over on


Vintage Sheet Addict said...

What a fabulous activity, the home my mum was at had mainly dementia residents. They had old fashioned pram for residents to push, lots of photos, and all manner of memories/artefacts dotted around the home :) xxx

Me, You and Magoo said...

Thank you for your comment Vintage Sheet Addict...I love the idea of the pram. I will pass it onto my husband. I've heard that many residents with dementia like to hold keys because it makes them feel reassured.

Lots of people keep telling me ideas for activities for people living with dementia. I think most people know someone who has dementia or is affected by it in someway. I think it's lovely that homes are going the extra mile to create stimulating activities for their residents.

Laura - dear bear and beany said...

What a lovely idea. My nan recently passed away and she was in a home and this activity would have made her so happy. She adored her garden and it was the thing she missed the most. It would have been so lovely to have brought a part of it indoors for her. Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove Laura x

Katy - Hot Pink Wellingtons said...

This is a lovely activity! My grandma has dementia, so I know how difficult it can be to have a conversation with dementia sufferers. Smell is such a strong associative sense - I know I can be completely brought back to a time and a place just by a waft on something on the breeze, so I can see how powerful this might be. Thanks so much for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

Megan - Truly Madly Kids said...

Such a wonderful idea and with such thought behind it. X

Right Royal Mother said...

Oh, this is such a brilliant post. I love the idea of sensory activity and that sage was the most popular scent. I think smell is hugely underrated; whenever I have any spare cash (hardly ever!) I tend to splash it on scent. The initiative is a great one - I'm going to watch the video. #sharingthebloglove

Sian QuiteFranklySheSaid said...

This is such a brilliant activity idea and it made me well up thinking of those people being reminded of Christmas dinner. Smell is such a powerful thing. Thanks for linking up to #HappyDaysLinky x

Katy (What Katy Said) said...

What a lovely thing for them to do. My grandmother is slowly losing all knowledge of who we are and it makes me so sad. She probably won't go into a home as thankfully my grandad is there to care for her but I would love her to have something like this if she were ever to have to go into a care home. Thank you for sharing in #HappyDaysLinky x

Katy (What Katy Said) said...

Such a thoughtful activity. What a lovely thing to organise. Thank you for sharing in #HappyDaysLinky x

Mrs Crafty B said...

What a great activity and so inspiring. Thank you for sharing this and great work you guys. You truly are inspiring and wonderful. #MakingHome


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