Dementia’s Affect on the 5 Senses

Jan 20,2020

Dementia’s affect on the 5 Senses

One consequence of dementia which is often overlooked are the affect it has on the bodies 5 senses.

If you are caring for a loved one with a dementia, keep in mind that sensory changes are important to be aware of to keep your loved one safe and engaged.  Making changes in their environment and daily activities are key to helping them adjust to different sensations.

Sight

Your loved one’s eye’s may have no physical abnormalities, but the ability of their brain to interpret some images could be impaired, creating confusion, anxiety and the inability to recognize familiar faces, places and objects.  Colors and shapes may not make sense even causing them to be fearful of walking/stepping because they may interpret flooring transitions as a danger.

Making bold color contrasts, such as a brightly colored toilet seat on a white toilet, contrasting plates to the tablecloth all make a difference in their ability to recognize everyday objects.

Placing “picture” signs on doors and cabinets may help them identify where to locate rooms or items is helpful in maintaining their independence.

Smell

Determined to be one of the first senses to be impacted by Alzheimer’s, your loved one may be confused as to what they are smelling.  They may not be able to distinguish the smell of smoke from a burning object or identify when food is spoiled, or a liquid is dangerous to drink.

Common sense measure that will help keep your loved one safe are:

  • Make a weekly cupboard and refrigerator/freezer check to ensure up to date food.
  • Keep all cleaning supplies in a locked cabinet.
  • If needed, disconnect or adapt the stove so that they are unable to use when alone.
  • Make sure the smoke detectors are working properly and consider an alarm company that will monitor and contact a neighbor to assist in case the system detects smoke.

Taste

When our ability to smell appropriately is affected, so is our ability to taste.  Similar dangers and cautions as I discussed with smell are also srelevant to the loss of taste.

Hearing

Dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s can effect hearing even in individual’s who tests as having good hearing.  The disease causes difficulty in processing certain sounds and words.  When someone has difficulty hearing in addition to the effects of dementia, this makes for confusion and anxiety.

Keeping a calm and quiet environment with little to no background noise is an optimal setting to help eliminate some of the confusion and anxiety that can be common.  Speaking slowly and in short statements, using good body language and the use of pictures all help to navigate them through the hearing process.  Remember to teach friends and family members to do the same when they are visiting and interacting with your loved one.

Touch

Touch is so important to our wellbeing, both being touched in a compassionate way and safely touching everyday objects/items.

Even our sense of touch is impacted by dementia.  An individual with a dementia diagnosis may not experience the sensations of heat and cold.  This is potential dangerous to them in their everyday life.  Important safeguards to but in place are:

  • Color coding the faucets for hot/cold
  • Installing anti-scold devises on your plumbing
  • Warning sticker on oven and range tops
  • Installing safety devices that make ovens and stovetops unusable.
  • Keeping them warm in the winter and cool and hydrated on hot days.

Please don’t forget that touching your loved one by hugging, holding hands, applying lotion or a gentle massage is critical to their wellbeing.  Take time to make that a time to connect in a positive and loving way.

Understanding the impact of dementia on the senses can help you be a better caregiver and prepare for changes experienced by a loved one with a dementia.  Being aware and recognizing changes in your loved one’s senses enables you to take precautions and avoid unnecessary confusion, anxiety and dangerous situations.

Feel free to contact me for more information on the 5 senses, including fun ways that we can engage them!

Regards,

Kara Harvey- Founder & CEO

Elder-Well™ Adult Day Program

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