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Sensational Communication: Strategies to Enhance Engagement with Adults Living with Dementia

Volunteer playing a guitar for residents during music therapy

When we think about communicating, our first instinct is to think about words, speaking, and conversations. But, for older adults, communication becomes much more than the words in a spoken sentence. This is especially true for older adults living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Using multiple sensory systems offers a powerful approach to enhance meaningful communication with people living with dementia. 

As the body and brain age, one’s ability to take in information, process the content, and respond may be substantially altered. Aging can naturally degrade one’s ability to take in information from the environment. For example, older adults often experience hearing loss which can diminish their ability to understand and engage in conversations. Eyesight also changes which impacts how older adults gather information, such as reading and writing. Dementia can also impact the brain’s ability to process information from the ears, eyes, hands, and other sensory systems in the body. While a spoken message may be retrieved by the ears, the brain’s processing may be delayed or may not interpret all of the information coming in. This, in turn, alters the speed and way the person responds. 

Fortunately, a multi-sensory approach can increase success when communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s disease. 

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