The Role of Senses in Aging Well

The Role of Senses in Aging Well

Finding the environment that suits your parent’s needs can be challenging – but it’s an act of love.

Helping a parent move to assisted living or memory care is an incredibly challenging task that calls for a great deal of perseverance and understanding. It’s a decision that comes with natural hesitation due to the complexities of researching the type of care needed, sibling consensus, financial assessment, the arduous task of downsizing, and even guilt. Throw in a global pandemic and it’s even more complex.

Getting advice from professionals in the field will help you plan, including enlisting input from mom or dad’s physician. Even if you lack full consensus from your family or even your parents, you can still do the research. Remember that this is an act of love that may actually make your parent’s lifestyle safer and healthier. Be guided by some principles set forth by the Family Alliance of Caregivers:

  1. Start with open discussions with your parents
  2. Evaluate the level of care needed
  3. Allow your parent to be the center of decision making
  4. Research options that provide the right setting
  5. Understand the financial options available
  6. Reach out to organizations that can help
  7. Get recommendations from others in similar situations

Safety and security is always a priority
Given COVID-19, safety has become even more of a priority in the decision-making process. In a recent article in Senior Housing News, Asbury’s infection-control algorithm and safety protocols were featured. “Having responded quickly to the pandemic, Asbury Communities plans on maintaining vigilance for the foreseeable future,” says Senior Vice President of Health Care Services and Operations Henry Moehring. “Our vigilance is still very strong and needs to be strong. We will continue to hold those barriers up high to protect those residents that are the most vulnerable.”

‘Person-centered’ means building care and programs around unique interests and personalities
In comparing the benefits of supportive communities, it’s important to understand their staffing ratios and caregiving philosophy, their commitment to wellness programs, and what is covered in their monthly fee versus charged as an ‘extra.’ In a broad sense, assisted living helps people who are experiencing physical or cognitive challenges that require monitoring and support. Tasks that may require additional help – such as driving to appointments, cleaning, doing laundry or preparing meals – should be part of the total package, in addition to moderate support with getting dressed, eating, hygiene, incontinence, and medication management. A person-centered community seeks residents’ opinions in how they want their day to progress and honors that. Caregivers take time to get to know the resident and use that knowledge in their interactions. Wellness professionals create opportunities that align with residents’ backgrounds and hobbies. And everyone on the team understands the role that connection, stimulation, and senses play in residents’ well- being. See our Gone Fishing video.

Sensory surround is critical in creating the right environment for seniors with dementia

“Sensory surround is thought to be one of the most important aspects in senior living design – inside and out. As you embark on finding the perfect living arrangement for your Mom or Dad, pay special attention to how the community engages all the senses. Look for color, art, light, and textures. Be aware of the aromas, the music you hear in the background, the sensory activities you see, and the emotion you witness from the residents.

Sensory stimulation can physiologically improve the wellbeing of older adults by calling on a positive memory, reinforcing relationships from the past, and providing a sense of calm and reassurance for those who are battling cognitive decline and loneliness. Dr. Lesley Collier, occupational therapist and recognized international expert in the field of sensory research, details the connection between environmental surroundings to enhanced health and wellbeing for seniors. In her research on sensory enrichment, she explains, “As we age and experience a natural decline in sensory perception from loss in vision, hearing, taste, and smell, creating multisensory environments can trigger more positive emotional response and memories.”

Sensory overload can backfire and cause agitation and anxiety – too much of a good thing can lead to negative consequences. Striking a balance is key, including spaces where residents can be alone and find serenity, creating programs that promote meditation and quiet time, and creating an environment and staff training programs that foster brain health. Engaging all of the senses is something Asbury works hard to achieve with each community purposefully blending all senses into everyday living with award-winning wellness programs, safe environmental design, and healthy cuisine.

Therapeutic programs activate the senses for those with cognitive and physical challenges
Customized programs that address the interests and needs of all residents is something that differentiates Asbury. “Sensory activities include aromatherapy, music, baking, outdoor gardening, massage and wellness classes complement artistic expression and adult learning programs and social opportunities,” explains Robin Stern, Vice President of Operations for Asbury. “Our certified dementia practitioners don’t just provide Alzheimer’s and dementia care services. We provide purposeful living with access to opportunities many residents would not have at home. We take pride in building programs that will capture the attention of residents so that they want to participate.”

Asbury creates special outdoor spaces providing peaceful connections to nature, and a place to either enjoy gardening, bird watching, or simply reading a book. Inside, Asbury has created a multitude of activities that stimulate the senses through gardening, art, live entertainment, intellectual seminars for ongoing learning, games, and other social activities.

Being able to provide an environment of choice is important to appeal to both men and women with varying degrees of cognitive and physical abilities. Creating opportunities where they can do things that remind them of home, their childhood, their adult lives, or to get them to try something new encourages residents to remain actively involved.

This is the value of community and something that should be on the top of your list in selecting the perfect environment for your Mom or Dad. Taking the time to understand each resident as an individual is a signature attribute of Asbury, which partners with Planetree, an international program devoted to creating person- centered service in health care settings. In 2018, Asbury was proud to see Bethany Village achieve Planetree Gold Certification for Person-Centered Excellence, becoming the first continuing care retirement community in the United States to earn this honor.

“Lifestyle therapies that include physical and mental exercise naturally stimulate the sensory neurons in our brain and may reduce and slow the progression of cognitive impairment that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia,” explains Dr. Maria Carullo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. In recent studies outlined on alz.org, lifestyle changes that include sensory stimulus have proved to be successful strategies for reducing the effects of cognitive decline, anxiety, and depression.

The science behind engaging the senses with aroma, music, and cuisine for health and wellness
Additional research from the National Institute on Aging demonstrates the importance of sensory factors that promote engagement and elevate cognitive expression among seniors. When sensory neurons are stimulated in the brain, endorphins are released that can cause a positive change in behavior and psychology. Aromas can physically stimulate appetite, which can lead to better nutrition. Music can bring a physiological response that can calm anxiety, overcome depression, and improve sleeping patterns. Nutrition can be improved with colorful taste combinations and enjoyable social settings. Understanding how the senses work together creates comfort, calm, and nostalgia, which in turn promotes health and wellbeing.

In recent posts on Aging Care, all three of these important sensory tools play a critical role in enhancing the quality of a senior living experience:

1. Smell: Aromatherapy programs have helped in reducing medications for pain, anxiety, and depression, as well as improving sleep and lowering fall rates.

2. Music: Music can be used to help aging adults manage everything from chronic pain to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Music therapists help residents manage pain, reduce the use of psychiatric medications, encourage creative expression, and improve rehabilitation outcomes.

3. Cuisine: Dulling of the senses greatly affects how seniors perceive food and can actually lessen their feelings of hunger. To help enhance a senior’s dining experience, using aromatic ingredients like onions, garlic, ginger, celery, or carrots at the start of cooking creates deeper, more flavorful foundations for many different cuisines.

Since one of the most important and most memorable sensory triggers is taste, Asbury takes pride in providing the ultimate culinary experiences. A positive dining experience results in better appetite and nutrition, which in turn allows for better sleep, which translates to better health from being able to be more active and engaged in social activities. It all works together to sustain a more fulfilling lifestyle, just from activating multiple senses. Win- win-win.

Identifying the best sensory environments
As you study the options for the care of your mother or father (or both), make sure you use your sensory palette:

1. What do you see when you first walk in?
2. Do you hear music playing? (Ask about their music programs.)
3. What kind of art is displayed?
4. How does the lobby make you feel?
5. Are there walking paths outside to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine?
6. Do they have a garden?
7. What kind of activities are included on a daily basis?
8. Can you smell something cooking? (Ask if you can meet the Chef and sample a meal.)
9. What type of physical wellness programs do they offer?
10. Do they have Dementia specialists?
11. Do they have Parkinson’s specialists?
12. Do the residents look like they enjoy it there? (Even ask if you can speak to a few.)

The most important sense for you to take into consideration is how the experience, environment and people make you and your parents feel. Asbury wants your loved one to feel right at home. To learn more contact us today!

Sources:

Family Alliance of Caregivers: “Home Away from Home: Relocating Your Parents”

Senior Housing News: “Senior Living Industry Confronts New Infections Control Reality”

McKnight’s Senior Living: “How Interior Design can Affect the Health and Wellbeing of Seniors”

National Institute on Aging: “Understanding the Dynamics of the Aging Process”

National Institute on Aging: “Adapting Activities for People with Alzheimer’s Disease”

Aging Care: “How to Make Life Easier and Safer for Seniors with Low Vision”

Aging Care: “Loss of Smell in the Elderly”

Aging Care: “Benefits of Music Therapy for Older Adults”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Vision Loss and Age”

Taylor & Francis Online: “Sensory enrichment for people living with Dementia”

Alz.org: “Five Things We Learned in 2019”

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