Sensory activities are most commonly used to treat individuals with sensory processing disorders, including many autism patients; however, sensory activities are also becoming more common to treat Alzheimer's and dementia patients. Many sensory activities were developed with children in mind, and while some of these activities are suitable for adults, it is important not to use activities that may seem too childish when working with adult patients.
Many adults who have difficulty processing sounds can find relatively quiet noises distracting and aggravating. Sound therapy can be used to help reduce stress and help adults with sensory disorders to better tolerate sounds. The first step is to determine which sounds the patient finds pleasing. Often, natural sounds such as running water or birdsong work well. Soft music can also be used. Have patients listen to the natural sounds or music at regular times during the day or as part of a larger sensory therapy treatment. Gradually build upon the sounds the patient is familiar with to help them to become accustomed to other sounds.
Activities using the sense of sight can be as simple as having patients look at colourful swatches of fabric or coloured pieces of paper. Simple photographs can also be used. Videos of natural settings or animals can also work well as visual activities. When using images, avoid patterns that are too busy or pictures that are too complex as this can be too much for a patient, especially a patient with Alzheimer's or dementia, to process.
Aroma diffusers work well to help patients experience different smells and can be used to treat stress. If possible, have patients assist with a simple baking or cooking activity to help them experience different food aromas such as vanilla, fruit smells and spices. If cooking activities are not possible, have patients sample different food-related smells such as vanilla, mint, orange, coffee and flavoured teas as well as scents like powder and perfume.
Many individuals with sensory processing disorder are picky eaters, though in most cases their fussiness is due more to the texture of the food than the taste. Taste activities can help these patients get used to different tastes and different foods. Begin with a simple activity where patients taste in liquid form a few drops of different tastes such as sugar water, lemon juice, tea and coffee. Have patients describe the taste, and if possible identify it. Play a taste test game where patients are blindfolded and must identify different foods by taste.
For patients with sensory processing disorder, touch is often a serious issue. Have patients work with different activities that require them to use their hands and to have contact with different textures and materials. Have patients practice lifting small weights. Try having patients sit on a large balance ball or a large cushion. Rub different lotions or massage oils onto a patients skin, which can also incorporate the sense of smell. Allow patients to use a foot massage machine; first allow them to become accustomed to the machine and the experience without turning it on. When patients are used to the experience, turn on the vibration feature of the machine.