When we think of dementia, the primary focus is on how it impacts short term memory. However, an often overlooked consequence of the disease is how it affects the way the brain recognizes and processes the five senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch.
If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, here are some sensory changes to look for, along with some things you can do to help. (Note that some of the information below is provided courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Resource Center):
- Sight: While there may be no physical abnormality of the eye, the ability of the brain to interpret images may become impaired. This may create confusion, which leads to, among other things, the inability to recognize familiar faces and places. It also impairs the ability to discern colors and shapes. It is important to help a loved one with vision issues by using things like color contrast strips to help them differentiate things like drawers, cabinets and steps.
- Smell: This is often one of the first senses to be impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. The individual may experience either confusion as to what they smell or a lack of sensory capability. It is important if caring for an individual living alone, to keep the refrigerator and cupboards clear of outdated and spoiled food.
- Taste: Loss of the ability to smell impacts our taste buds. Because the loss of smell is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, so will the individual’s ability to taste. This is particularly dangerous in that it can result in eating spoiled food and/or drinks. Just as with the loss of smell, food items should be checked regularly for freshness and removed when they become spoiled.
- Hearing: An individual with Alzheimer’s may test as having excellent hearing and yet still be unable to process certain sounds. As you can imagine, this can cause a great deal of confusion and anxiety. That is why a calm, quiet environment is optimum for those with dementia. Speak slowly and calmly and encourage visiting friends and family to do the same.
- Touch: Yes, even the sense of touch can be impacted by dementia. That means an individual with Alzheimer’s disease may not experience the sensations of heat and cold. It’s important to safeguard their environment and consider doing things like color coding faucets for hot/cold water as well as putting warning stickers on the oven and range top.
Understanding the impact of dementia on the senses can help you better prepare for changes experienced by a loved one with dementia. By recognizing the degeneration of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch you can take precautions to help avoid further agitation as well as dangerous accidents.
At Anthem Memory Care communities, our staff members are experienced in assisting with the sensory changes associated with dementia. The rooms, hallways and courtyards of our buildings have been optimized to support individuals with dementia and to help ensure that they continue to experience a high quality of life by keeping them safe, comfortable and connected to those around them.