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 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
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
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