Sensory Support Eases Life with Dementia

June 24, 2023

Sensory Support Eases Life with Dementia

More than 55 million people have been diagnosed with dementia worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Dementia symptoms are part of several diseases that affect memory, thinking, and the ability to perform daily activities, typically affecting people 65 and older.

Dementia care is always evolving, and JF&CS’ Aviv Older Adult Services offers four intuitive, evidence-based programs designed to improve quality of life not only for people living with dementia, but for their loved ones, too.

Memory Lane TV:

Memory Lane TV is a “caregiver respite,” says Aviv Case Manager Samantha Freeman MS, CPG, CDP. “Particularly when someone is a 24-hour caretaker, this gives them time to take care of themselves while engaging their loved one.”

The streaming service (offered at no cost to JF&CS clients thanks to a two-year grant from Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), Center on Aging and Trauma) is akin to Netflix, but carefully curated to engage the mind changed by dementia. Programming includes content that simulates typical morning, afternoon and evening routines, which helps anchor people into the proper time of day. The evening program, for example, may include slow paced music and clips of dusk, dinnertime and sunsets. It can also help with “sundowning,” a phenomenon of increased agitation and anxiety commonly experienced in the evenings. The strategic service also offers clips of everyday life that encourage reminiscing. “Reminiscing on good times is important to someone with dementia, because that is the reality they’re living in,” says Samantha.

Equally important to what Memory Lane TV offers is what is absent from it; namely, anything that can invoke stress. “Character development and plotlines are frustrating for people with dementia, and can cause disengagement,” says Samantha. Short scenes from popular shows like I Love Lucy are included, rather than full episodes, and there are no news programs. “(Memory Lane TV) helps us live in their reality, rather than pulling them into ours,” she adds.

Robotic Pets

Robotic Pets are battery-powered and respond to touch and sound. They purr, move, and provide a sense of companionship.

“Often, people with dementia can feel a lack of purpose; it’s difficult to have had purpose your entire life, and suddenly lose that sense of it,” says Samantha. “Having them be able to care for the pets and have something to talk to can be impactful.”

The robotic pets, funded by a grant from the Sephardic Foundation on Aging, are usually used to help people in the later stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s, a time when conversation can be difficult. Sensory input, like that from Robotic Pets, is an effective way to engage with their world and stimulate them.

Music & Memory

Music & Memory is a program that trains care professionals and organizations on setting up personalized playlists for their clients with dementia. Research shows that music is a very effective conduit for connection, tapping into deep memories and often revitalizing those living with dementia. For JF&CS clients, the simple approach is very effective. Clients receive an MP3 player preloaded with curated playlists, and two sets of headphones for tandem listening. “We have one upbeat playlist to help get people engaged, and one that is more relaxing to help wind down,” says Samantha. “We also have Yiddish music for an added layer of cultural connection.”

Music from the formative years of someone’s life, usually their early 20’s, taps into “deep memories not lost to dementia,” says Music & Memory, “enabling (people) to feel like themselves again, to converse, socialize, and stay present.” Music & Memory is provided by a private donor and the Sephardic Foundation on Aging.

Brain Health Bootcamp:

Brain Health Bootcamp (BHBC) is a biweekly group hosted at JF&CS’ Dunwoody headquarters that serves people who are in the early stages of dementia, or otherwise experiencing memory/cognitive loss. While dementia is degenerative, “the more you engage and do social programming, you can help slow down the progress of the disease; in fact, cognitive loss doesn’t always progress to dementia,” says Samantha. “Having a weekly scheduled activity is hugely helpful.”

The classes incorporate three aspects engagement: physical exercise, cognitive exercise, and a social environment. Physical exercise includes gentle stretches and seated yoga, then a choreographed dance to stimulate the brain. After a break to rest and talk with one another, participants move into cognitive exercise, which includes games, questions and memory challenges. There is also the added therapeutic interaction with Bubbelah, the gentle dog owned and trained by BHBC’s Cognition Coach Fini Shell. Cost is $25/class.

We are proud to offer these programs to improve quality of life for our clients. If you or a loved one could benefit from these services, please reach out to AgeWell Atlanta at 1-866-AGE-WELL and ask to be connected with Samantha Freeman.