Sensory Changes with Dementia

Two memory care residents enjoy gardening

Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia can cause seniors to experience various changes that impact more than just their brain. Dementia can cause changes in personality, behavior and even the physical body as a result of deterioration in certain parts of the brain. This can cause seniors to experience sensory changes that could impact their health and well-being, particularly if no attempt to correct the diminishing sense or to modify the safety concern is made. In order to ensure the safety of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, it can help to understand what happens to the senses as memory loss progresses and what can be done to help a senior with memory loss adapt.

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss can be extremely complicated to understand, according to Amy Dukes, Memory Care Liaison at AHAVA Memory Care Residence, a Hearthstone-Certified Memory Care Center of Excellence in Pittsburgh, PA. “Because each form of dementia is different for each individual person, it’s hard to predict what changes are going to occur on a seniors’ particular journey through the disease,” she states. “Some have a combination of sensory changes, some have one or two, or some have none at all. Depending on the progression of dementia, the number of sensory changes may change. Very little can be predicted when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, but it always helps to be prepared for whatever may come their way in the journey.”

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can impair a seniors senses in a number of ways. In an article published by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), it states that dementia can make it difficult for seniors to “interpret what he or she can see, hear, taste, feel, or smell.” For this reason, they suggest that seniors with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia be evaluated by a physician at various times in order to assess the extent of their sensory changes. In order to keep loved ones with dementia safe, be aware of the possible changes that can occur in their senses and try to minimize the amount of potential danger.

Sight

As seniors age, vision-related changes begin to occur because of their impaired ability to interpret what they see. Vision-related changes can be caused as a result of the changes in the brain, which can cause seniors to lose their ability to comprehend what or who is in front of them and may also alter their sense of depth perception. Try some of these suggestions from the NIA to keep your loved one safe.

  • Keep floor and wall colors different. Solid, contrasting colors are less confusing to the eye.
  • Place brightly colored tape on the edges of steps so your loved one can see changes in height.
  • Place pictures on doors of important rooms, such as the bathroom and the bedroom.

Smell

This is one of the most dangerous sensory changes that occur with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Sense of smell helps to alert people of smoke and fires, gas leaks or if food is spoiled. As sense of smell often diminishes with Alzheimer’s and dementia, it’s important to do the following:

  • Make sure that smoke detectors are installed and that the batteries are good.
  • If your loved one cooks with gas or heats with gas, make sure there is a gas detector.
  • Throw away any food that is out of date. If you think it’s questionable, throw it out.
  • It can help to purchase food containers with a dial indicating the date food is no longer good to eat.

Taste

Sensitivity to taste declines in those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This can cause many seniors to overuse salt, sugar or other spices in order to make food more tasteful. This can be detrimental to their health. Those with dementia can also begin to place random objects into their mouths or they may try to eat things that are not food. To help combat this, try these suggestions:

  • Place salt, sugar or other condiments in places that are harder to see. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Lock up toothpastes, shampoos or other scented products, as they may try to eat them.
  • Childproof locks can keep them out of cabinets and closets where potentially poisonous items are.  

Touch

As Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia progress, the loss of sensation occurs. According to the NIA, this causes seniors to no longer be able to interpret heat, cold, or discomfort. Your loved one may be less able to distinguish pain, as well. To keep your loved one safe, there are many things you can do, such as:

  • Be sure that water heaters are set to 120 degrees fahrenheit. This helps to decrease burns.
  • Try color-coding handles to faucets. Red for hot, blue for cold.
  • Never leave your loved one alone to use appliances. Unplug appliances when they are not in use.
  • Pad sharp edges of tables with corner covers, keep knives out of reach.

Hearing

According to the NIA, it’s possible for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia to be able to have normal hearing, but not be able to interpret what they hear accurately. This can cause them to become frightened, agitated and overstimulated. To prevent this, try the following tips:

  • Avoid extra noises such as the television on at the same time as the radio.
  • Keep an eye on how agitated your loved one becomes when out in public. If there is a large gathering or crowd and they can’t handle it, take your loved one home.
  • Ensure their hearing aids are working properly if they use one, make sure the batteries are working.

Safety, Love and Help When You Need it Most.

As dementia or Alzheimer’s disease progresses, it may become harder to care for your loved one on your own. When that time comes, trust AHAVA to care for your loved one. At AHAVA, we empower our residents to live engaging and fulfilling lives in our safe memory care community, where their families find support and peace of mind in knowing their loved ones are safe and secure. To experience our community designed for living, we invite you to call us at 412.521.8295 or visit us today.

AHAVA Memory Care Residence . . . For the Love of Seniors

The Jewish Association on Aging’s new AHAVA Memory Care Residence is the only Memory Care Center of Excellence in Pennsylvania certified by The Hearthstone Institute. At AHAVA, we provide the proven approach of Hearthstone’s life-enriching I’m Still Here® programming within a warm and comfortable atmosphere. With the Hearthstone approach, the expertise of our caregivers, the support of our community, and a purposeful design for those with memory loss, AHAVA Memory Care Residence is Pittsburgh’s premier resource for Alzheimer’s and dementia care.

The choice to partner with The Hearthstone Institute came from the desire to provide truly unique and specialized memory care programming to our residents. As a recognized leader in the field of Alzheimer’s care and founder of The Hearthstone Institute, Dr. John Zeisel’s philosophy and approach deeply aligns with ours – to create nurturing environments where those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss can flourish. We have created an atmosphere of hope for our residents and their families – a place where everyone cares for, respects, and loves one another.

Built with purpose and love, and designed for living, AHAVA Memory Care Residence is more than just a place to be cared for – it’s a place to experience joy. Our personalized memory care program, delivered within a licensed assisted living community, provides the dignified assistance that’s needed, along with the lifestyle, services, and amenities that are desired.

Please contact us today or call us at 412.521.8295 for more information or to arrange a personal tour.