Sensory stimulation for persons with dementia: a review of the literature

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Aims and objectives.

To provide an overview of available sensory stimulation interventions, and their effect on persons with dementia and to present theoretical and methodological characteristics of the studies included.


Different sensory stimulation interventions are used for persons with dementia to increase alertness, reduce agitation and improve quality of life. However, the effect of these interventions is not clear, neither are their characteristics.


A systematic search and review of the literature with description of the content and an evaluation of theoretical and methodological approaches.


Systematic searches in CINAHL, PubMed (Medline), The Cochrane library and PsycINFO. Studies included have been subject to quality assessment by means of Critical Appraisal Skills Programme.


Fifty-five studies were included and thirty of these documented significant effect. The effect of the sensory stimulation interventions mainly reported on negative behaviours, except from five studies assessing quality of life and well-being. The majority of the studies had methodological limitations. The different sensory stimulation interventions were organised into eight categories: music, light therapy, acupressure/reflexology, massage/aromatherapy and doll therapy/pet therapy/toy therapy, the Sonas programme and Snoezelen.


More studies are needed to clarify appropriate substantial background for the specific interventions. However, most of the studies based their interventions on a theoretical foundation. Furthermore, more research is needed to measure the effect of sensory stimulation on communication as well as quality of life. In addition, studies are to focus on whether the effect depends on the stage of dementia.

Relevance to clinical practice.

Nurses are to be aware of sensory stimulation as a possible intervention to improve persons' quality of life.

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