Exploration of the Senses

Providing families tools for interactions with loved ones

Author: The HSL Blog Team
A zoomed in photo of two people grasping each other's hands

Communication is a fundamental aspect of human relationships and the way we connect with others. All too often that communication breaks down as loved-ones age and develop disabilities. Although communication disorders affect people of all ages, the prevalence and complexity of these conditions increase with age and the onset of conditions that cause cognitive decline, including stroke and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.

I recently spoke to Jana Galvin, Community Life Leader at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. She and her team of life-enhancement experts offer tools that stimulate the senses, which in turn, enhance communication and maintain, or strengthen ties with loved-ones. Here are their tips.

Exploring the Senses for People with Dementia

  • Look at personal pictures that evoke shared memories and help keep your loved-one connected with family and friends.
  • Read the newspaper/magazines/books/short stories to stimulate language use.
  • Look at pictures in an art book, which can be stimulating (bright colors, shapes, etc) and encourage discussion.
  • Look at vintage pictures of everyday activities to elicit memories (travel, nature, holidays, children, etc).
  • Go for a stroll to take in the surrounding environment. 
  • Play music through portable devices to foster singing, movement (swaying, dancing, clapping) and relaxing together.
  • Create playlists of songs based on your loved-one’s interests.
  • Provide guided meditation to promote relaxation and breathing. 
  • Create a sensory board/ box that contains a variety of materials, textures and objects to engage your loved-one.
  • Provide comforting touch (holding hands, rubbing back, brushing hair, hugging, etc)
  • Provide props to support music listening and memory sharing (Example: Play the Autumn Leaves song and bring real or fake leaves to touch).
  • Provide comforting items such as stuffed animals, dolls, and blankets.
  • Sit in the sun to feel its warmth on your skin. 
  • Offer scented lotions/essential oils/perfumes to provoke and share memories (Example: the aftershave cream that your father used to wear).
  • Scents can be tied in with touch through message.
  • Take a walk outside or open the window for fresh air.
  • Bring a tasty snack or share a special meal with special treats to mark the seasons/holidays (mulled cider, homemade gingerbread cookies—homemade recipes awaken memories).
  • Select foods that awaken the senses (fresh fruit, ice cream, juice, chocolate, warm tea, ice cold beverage).

Caution: It’s important to check with a nurse in case there are any dietary restrictions that need to be followed.


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Coping with Memory Loss

From our Center for Memory Health to our Adult Day Health program to Assisted Living to Memory Care Assisted Living, we offer a wide range of memory care services and support.

Long-Term Chronic Care

Hebrew Rehabilitation Center provides person-centered extended medical care in a homelike setting for patients with chronic illness. As a licensed long-term chronic care hospital, we provide higher-level, more comprehensive medical care to older adults than a traditional nursing home.

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About The HSL Blog Team

The Hebrew SeniorLife Blog Team brings you helpful and reliable content about issues that matter to seniors and their loved ones, informed by Hebrew SeniorLife's team of experts.

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