Creative Caregiving to Stimulate the Senses
Are you one of the 44.4 million adults* providing care for a loved one with a debilitating illness? We know it can sometimes be a struggle to keep the day safe, healthy and engaging for the person you love. Check out these five great caregiving tips designed to help you stimulate all five senses – an essential practice for keeping the brain and body as sharp as possible:
1. SIGHT: Look and interact
Challenging your loved ones – in a fun environment — to look at specific items and interact with them is a great way to stimulate the brain. A perfect example: Play Bingo. Recognizing the numbers on the cards is a great way to engage the brain while placing chips.
Another great activity is scrapbooking. Collecting and talking about memories is an obvious way to recall “the old days.” Collect postcards from places visited, photos of visitors, anything to remind you of a special day’s events. Then revisit those memories in weeks to come.
2. HEARING: Listen to the music
Music is a great way to connect with your loved ones and enhance the caregiving relationship. By playing different types of music you can spark conversation with your loved ones about the past.
For example, prior to talking about their wedding day (and maybe looking at a wedding scrapbook), put on some soft wedding songs and let the memories come back.
Music can play a key role in exercising as well. Background music can lower a person’s perception of the effort they are expending in exercise by about ten percent. By playing upbeat music you can positively affect the way your loved one gets through their necessary exercises.
3. TOUCH: Feel the love
Do not forget about the power of touch. Soft clay-like products or special exercise items (such as balls) can be manipulated or squeezed to help strengthen the hands. Simple toys can be a good option for keeping seniors active while encouraging hand-eye coordination.
Another great way to bring joy to your loved ones is by having them interact and pet animals, such as dogs and cats. Pets are known to provide better physical and emotional health, as well as, greatly increase the quality of life.
4. TASTE: Enjoy the flavor
It is important to understand that taste and smell senses diminish with age. Seniors tend to lose sensitivity to salty and bitter tastes first and may be inclined to salt food more heavily than before—even though seniors need less salt than younger people.
Use herbs, spices, and healthy oils—like olive oil—to season food instead of salt. Similarly, seniors tend to retain the ability to distinguish sweet tastes the longest, leading some to overindulge in sugary foods and snacks. Instead of adding sugar, try increasing sweetness to meals by using naturally sweet food such as fruit, peppers, or yams.
5. SMELL: Savor the aroma
Smells are great at bringing back memories. Aromatherapy is a great way to engage the senses. Even an activity as simple as cooking foods with strong scents can inspire the senses (the olfactory senses are great at triggering memory as well). The next step might be incorporating aromatherapy into therapeutic massage.
*2003 National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP National Caregiver Survey