Sensory Stimulation
What Are Sensory Stimulation Groups?

By Cheryl Ellis, Staff Writer


Why are they so necessary in Alzheimer specific day centers?

I work in an Alzheimer specific day center. Each day that I’m there, I spend two hours running what I believe to be a very important group …. a sensory stimulation group. The majority of the members range from age 91-104. I’ve found that the group gives these elders a place to express their frustrations, a place to interact with others and have fun! I’m always amazed at the outcome … usually members are more verbal by the time the group ends.

What is a sensory stimulation group?

It is a special group led by a facilitator who provides exercises which stimulate brain function through simple tasks which involve the senses of sight, touch and hearing.

How does stimulating the senses increase brain activity?

During the first years of life, the brain’s pathways and cells are “laid down” through the interaction of the senses with the outside environment. The senses are among the first brain’s activities and the last to go in a person’s lifetime. Specific exercise to actively engage the senses and both sides of the body increase brain activity. Brain cells, unlike other cells in the body, can live a very long time … some brain cells can live up to 100 years. Although Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease, research indicates exercising the “working parts” of the brain does have a protective effect.

Why is it important to focus sensory activities on both sides of the body?

The nerve pathways run “contra-lateral” which means they run on the opposite side. For example, 97 percent of right-handed individuals are considered “left brained” and visa versa … left-handed individuals are considered “right brained.” Visual and auditory stimuli are also processed contra-laterally. Engaging in exercises which utilize both eyes, ears and hands ensure an efficient way to stimulate both sides of the brain.

What sorts of exercises are done during the sensory groups?

The group starts with the facilitator encouraging alternating handshakes with the members. Other activities include carefully monitored interactive ball play, activities with blocks, drawing and more activities that encourage eye-to-eye and eye-to-hand coordinating. During the last ten minutes of the group, members are encouraged and praised for language expression. The group includes music and at times singing.

What are the goals of the sensory groups?
The intentions of these groups are to work on: planning and problem solving, visual and spatial reasoning, initiation, language expression and socialization.
How long do these groups run and what are the possible outcomes?

The groups typically last for 50 minutes. A number of individuals gain a sense of empowerment and well-being, while others occasionally access more verbalization and need less prompting.

Why do these groups make caregiving easier?

The sensory groups engage clients in activities that require a considerable amount of eye-to-hand and eye- to-eye contact which can be experienced as energizing but also tiring. With the variety of programs offered at Alzheimer specific day centers, by the end of the day, clients are ready to go home. Research indicates clients that attend Alzheimer specific day centers sleep better and elicit fewer problematic behaviors, making care-giving easier.

My spouse has lost most of his desire and ability to express language. He no longer initiates simple tasks and easily becomes angry. Is he a good candidate for a sensory group?

Yes. A client does not need to be verbal to derive benefit from this group. The group works on simple tasks that are within your spouse’s abilities. The interactions with others will provide a connection which may help him feel less isolated and consequently less angry.

How do I know my family member is the best candidate for a sensory stimulation group?

The clients who benefit most are experiencing: restlessness, difficulty with language, difficulty with organizing thoughts, shortened attention span, inability to cope with unexpected situations, and challenges in perceptual and motor programming.

About the group leader: Diane Alvy is a registered nurse and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She works with elders and her sensory groups have been featured on Cable TV 36. Ms. Alvy has also authored articles about the benefits of eye-to-eye exercises for individuals challenged by neurogenic decline. She currently works at Opica (Older People in A Caring Atmosphere). Opica is located in West Los Angeles. For more information about sensory stimulation groups call 310-478-0226. Ask for Robbie Brown or Diane Alvy.


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