Sensory Mats or Fidget Blankets provide a soothing and stimulating activity for people living with dementia or recovering from strokes.
Sensory processing (originally called “sensory integration dysfunction” or SID) refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioural responses.
A person with sensory processing disorder (SPD) finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, and many other problems may impact those who do not have effective treatment.
Sensory Integration (SI) is a theory developed more than 20 years ago by A. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist with advanced training in neuroscience and educational psychology. The theory is used to explain the relationship between the brain and behavior and explains why individuals respond in a certain way to sensory input and how it affects behavior. The seven main senses are:
- Touch – tactile
- Sound – auditory
- Sight – visual
- Taste – gustatory
- Smell – olfactory
- Movement and Balance Sense – vestibular
- Joint and Muscle Sense – proprioception
- Some individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s have trouble with sensory modulation which is the ability to regulate and organise reactions to sensory input in a graded and adaptive manner. Therefore, individuals might have a difficult time with the following:
- Manage emotions and behaviours
- Appropriate social interactions
- Ability to vary responses across different settings
Individuals may be over-responsive, under-responsive or sensory seeking to stimuli input.
- Over-responsiveness: person may be less aware of sensory input
- Over reaction to touch, especially light touch
- Dislike of crowds
- Irritation having hair washed or cut
- Under-responsiveness: person may be overly sensitive, aware, or anxious
- Oblivious to loud sound
- Lack of response to pain
- Sensory seeking: person may display safety issues
- Craves movement
- Seeks intense touch pressure
- Likes to touch everything
- Likes to crash into objects, people
Sensory blankets can be used as a sensory stimulation item which can improve functioning, mood, and behaviour of individuals with dementia. Sensory blankets facilitate the person’s ability to self-nurture, increase coping skills, increase reality orientation, and actively engage in self-care.
Sensory blankets can be used:
- To calm or relax
- To self-sooth
- To distract
- To comfort one’s self
- To care for one’s self
Sensory blankets can include different qualities such as:
- Tactile: fabric (cotton, fleece, wool, etc.), zippers, buttons, etc
- Temperature: warmth
- Weight: deep pressure
- Visual: pattern or colors