MEPAP 2 - Final Practicum â€“ Professional Development (Article)
Wake Up those
By Nancy Zunino McGready
Our five senses â€“ sight, hearing, smell, taste, and hearing â€“ oh, how we take them for granted! It is almost impossible for me to imagine life without these five â€œbasicâ€ gifts. But, as we grow older and as we may have already witnessed in the elderly population we serve, something as simple and as taken-for-granted as the five senses takes on a whole other meaning when they are lost.
As Activity Professionals, we strive to reach all the residents in our care but, unfortunately, with the ravages of illness both of mind and body, many of our residents are seemingly beyond our reach. These residents are often the most heart-breaking images â€“ bedbound, severely cognitively impaired, incapable of meaningful verbal communication, . . . How can we reach them?
It may be as simple as one, more or all of those â€œbasicâ€ gifts of the human senses.
To cover all five senses would be beyond the scope of this article, so for our purposes within these confines, we are going to consider the sense of smell as a way to â€œawakenâ€ our most severely impaired residents and to â€œtakeâ€ them to different locales and to different times and memories seemingly locked away within themselves. (Note: Very often one sensory stimulation process easily involves the other senses with little effort required.)
As for the process of using scent as a means of awakening our residents, it is important to know that smells are most closely associated with memories and helping people recall memories. Smell can lead people back to their happy childhoods where they helped Mom bake snickerdoodles with cinnamon sugar or where they played in fields of flowers or freshly mowed grass.
Scents can also transport people to locations they have never been â€“ scents of coconut, mango, and citrus can have people relaxing on a beach in Maui or have people traipsing off to Paris with the scent of French perfume and buttery croissants.
There are many pre-made sensory stimulation products available for purchase (for example, â€œScents Sort Match-Up Kitâ€ by Roylco), but olfactory stimulation can easily be homemade â€“ literally! Fresh baked bread, popcorn, cookies, etc. â€“ can all be used as sensory stimulation items depending on your theme (and if your resident is still able to enjoy a regular diet, their taste buds will get a treat also!)
Creating your own sensory stimulation kit takes little more than some small disposable cups, scissors, rubber bands, wax paper, and a variety of odiferous items â€“ pleasantly odiferous preferably! For example letâ€™s use one of my favorite scents â€“ cinnamon. Simply dump some cinnamon into a cup, cut an appropriate size piece of wax paper to cover the cup, rubber band the wax paper so that it is covering the cup, cut some small holes in the wax paper with the scissors to allow the scent to come out, and . . . Voila! A cinnamon sensory stimulation tool!
If you would like, you can construct an entire sensory stimulation program around one theme â€“ such as baking. Aromas such as chocolate, vanilla extract, cinnamon, orange, cloves, etc. can be used to elicit memories of spending time in Grandmaâ€™s kitchen baking for a family get-together. While providing these scents for the resident, you can read reminiscent stories, make up tales about baking in the â€œgood old daysâ€, or, if your residents is capable of expressing themselves verbally, ask them what or whom these smells remind them of. Share your own experiences with scents to encourage your resident to join in the reminiscing. If your resident is non-verbal, be alert to facial expressions, eye contact, smiles or frowns, etc. to oriented your program in a positive direction for the resident.
For more cognitively alert residents, you can make this sensory stimulation into a game (as the â€œScents Sort Match-Up Kitâ€ does). See if the resident can guess the scent or, if capable, have the resident match the scent with a picture of the scent-producing item. Have the experience encompass a variety of interactions for the resident â€“ social, cognitive, emotional, etc.
Sensory stimulation may seem like a simplistic way of providing residents with activity programming, but when pursued with a plan and a goal of reaching our residents and providing them with a gateway to beloved memories, to new places, or to reconnect with a loved one long passed â€“ it is simply a gift!