What are sensory needs in aged care? Engaging our senses through sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance and spatial awareness can be incredibly important at every age, including as we get older. 

Let’s take a closer look at why and how we consider each person’s unique sensory needs in an aged care setting.


Why it’s important to understand sensory needs    

Our sensory systems play an essential role in our wellbeing and quality of life. Here are just some of the reasons it’s so vital to consider and appreciate every individual’s sensory needs.

Our senses help us make sense of the world    

From the moment we’re born we experience the world through our senses; the taste of our favourite foods, the sights of nature, the songs that we hear and associate with loved ones. We use things like tactile stimulation, auditory input and visual input to physically move through our environments and to interpret our reality. 

Our senses make life beautiful    

Whether it be music, art, nature, the smell of fresh baking or a hug from a grandchild, the best things in life are often tied to our sensory experiences. There are so many ways to find joy through the senses. This is why our aged care lifestyle programs offer a diverse range of options and experiences, from viewing art and museum exhibitions to mindful exercise like yoga.     

Our senses provide links to memories    

Senses can provide strong links to the past, as evidenced through reminiscence activities in aged care. For example, a person’s sense of smell can provide powerful links to memory and emotion, and our care teams can support these connections through activities such as aromatherapy and cooking classes. We’ve also witnessed remarkable moments while incorporating music for reminiscing, where individuals have their personalised playlists, which they can enjoy through headphones. Some non-verbal individuals even find themselves singing along when they hear a cherished song.

Our senses can change over time   

It’s essential to understand a person’s changing sensory needs to be able to adapt and respond to these changes. For example, people living with dementia may often perceive shadows, reflections and glare differently, which is why the lighting in our aged care homes is thoughtfully designed. TV or radio can sometimes make conversation more difficult if someone’s hearing has changed, so we can accommodate this by turning the sound down or off. And if someone experiences a significant sensory impairment such as full loss of vision, they can still connect through their other senses.


The impact of sensory loss on quality of life    

Sensory impairment, such as hearing loss or affected vision, can have negative impacts on quality of life for older people. This isn’t to say you can’t have a fantastic life if you have hearing loss or vision impairment – but rather, that it’s important that your unique sensory needs are considered and met.

An unaddressed change in hearing, vision or other senses can sometimes make it more difficult to interact with others. A quality care team can consider these sensory changes and help older people to stay connected to minimise the risk of social isolation or loneliness.

It’s for these reasons that it’s so important to meet each person’s physical and sensory needs in aged care.


How to meet your loved one’s sensory needs in aged care    

If someone you love is moving into aged care, or finding aged care support, there are a few ways to collectively meet their unique sensory needs. 

Identify and address any sensory impairments early

Unaddressed problems with hearing, vision and other sensory loss can leave someone feeling confused and alone. It’s beneficial to book regular hearing and vision tests over the age of 60, particularly if one has had exposure to industrial noise in the past. An aged care provider can help with this. For example, our care teams can help residents to manage assistive equipment like hearing aids and spectacles, and to arrange appointments with allied health practitioners whenever these are needed.

Find an aged care provider that values sensory engagement

All Australian aged care providers are required to provide care that meets each person’s needs, goals and preferences, but some providers place more emphasis on sensory engagement. For example, all Aurrum locations are designed specifically for sensory needs in aged care through elements like fragrant gardens, modern and comfortable interior design, dedicated dementia support units, seasonal menus that are full of flavour, and diverse lifestyle activities. These can all make a significant difference for a resident’s sensory experiences.

Make the most of sensory-based therapies

there are certain types of therapies that can actively meet and support a resident’s sensory needs. Sensory-based therapies can include tactile activities like art therapy or craft sessions, involve scents or music, or be as simple as having a professional haircut and enjoying a chat. 

Pet therapy can also be an excellent option for residents to engage their touch senses as they pat and hold gentle animals. And PARO, our cuddly robotic animal is also proving to be effective in reducing anxiety levels and boosting happiness for residents. PARO looks and feels like a cute baby seal and will happily sit in somebody’s lap, respond to its own name, make sounds like a seal pup and move its head in response to light and sound. This option can provide wonderful pet therapy for people with dementia, or where a resident is unable to interact with live animals for reasons like allergies, agitation or unintended aggression.

Bring in sensory experiences when visiting

Visits to the aged care home are warmly encouraged, and there are so many small ways you can bring in sensory delights for your loved one to help meet their sensory needs in aged care. You could bring in their favourite food, play them a song you both love, give them a hand massage or bring in a textured blanket. 

Encourage adaptation for sensory changes

If your loved one is experiencing a change in any of their senses, it’s a good idea to speak with the aged care team about how they can provide support. It’s possible to adapt the person’s care plan in a way that meets their sensory needs. Perhaps a resident’s hearing might not be what it used to be – but that person can still enjoy delicious meals, aromatherapy, Pilates and art therapy. Or if a resident’s eyesight has diminished, they can still enjoy the feeling of grass on their bare feet, smell fresh roses, join in with music therapy and engage with visiting entertainers.

With some consideration for your loved one’s sensory needs in aged care, it’s entirely possible to have a fulfilling, satisfying and well-connected life at every age.


Find an aged care provider that genuinely cares

We know finding an aged care provider can feel difficult, but there will be services in your area that can meet your loved one’s emotional, physical and sensory needs in aged care. You can ask whether the staff have training in sensory enrichment, and enquire about the dining, lifestyle and social culture at each aged care home. 

One of the best ways to assess an aged care provider and the quality of their care is to book a tour at the aged care homes you have in mind. If you’d like to explore an Aurrum location close to you in Victoria or New South Wales, then please feel free to contact our team.