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Sensory Stimulation Activities for Therapeutic Recreation

Chai Tea
submitted by Thia Rutledge of Oakwood Terrace Adult Day Program on February 2, 2009

Size of Group: 4-6 participants 1 staff but 2 is better

Equipment: 1 large pot, tea cups, black tea, milk, honey, 8 whole black pepper corns, 8 green cardamom pods, fresh ginger 2

Objective: educational, sensory, social

Description: Seat participants around a table preferably near kitchen stove. Bring 1/2 pot of water to boil, while water is heating pass around tea ingredients and discuss. See if participants can guess what the ingredient is. Ask if they remember using any if the ingredients. Talk about the smell etc.. Tell participants about the health benefits of each ingredient (this info is avail on google.) Add ingredients one at a time after passing around to group. Let boil 15-20 minutes. Every 5 minutes or so I removed the pot from the stove and brought it to the table so participants could see how tea was progressing.You can even share info about where the spice is from or how it is grown while tea boils. Add 2 bags black tea at the end let steep 3 minutes. Then serve Tea with milk and honey. We had some cookies with our tea as well.


Stimulating Relaxation
submitted by Brie Smith on March 9, 2010

Size of Group: 3-6

A box- To carry all of the objects listed below.
Sight- binder full of pictures, Lava lamp and a glitter ball.
Touch- Shower puff, play dough, Textured ball, the glitter ball can apply here too, hand lotion.
Smell- Lavender body wash (or essential oil and diffuser)
Hearing- CD player and relaxation CD
Taste- anything that you would like to (be sure to take residents diets into account) The great thing about this box is that you can individualize it to your client/resident or group and your box can grow, anything that may stimulate a person may go into this box.

* To provide a clam and relaxing environment
* To provide clam and relaxation to a client/resident emotions
* To stimulate all of the senses
* To provide clients/residents with a sense of well being

Description: To get started turn on the lava lamp and the CD player with the relaxation music, lower the lights place all of the other sensory items on the table, pour some body wash in to a bowl and pour hot water over it (great for long term home setting, because of fire codes you may not be able to use essential oils and diffuser) the sent will fill the air. Then start bring resident into the room. As you bring the clients in encourage them to look through the picture book, to touch the play dough and so on. As you look through the picture book ask questions or ask them to tell you a story/memory that coincides with the picture. The taste part of the program can be the refreshments.

Constructed for moderate to low functioning clients/residents but can be modified.



Submitted by Shelley Park

Size of Group: two or three

Equipment: Scented facial supplies (a variety of different ones), make up mirror, warm water, washcloth.

Description: Spend time with each participant helping her choose her favorite smelling facial supply. Use a mirror so they can watch what is going on. If the participant doesn't like having her face touched, maybe she can help give a facial instead.

I can't tell you how enjoyable this was for a few people I used to work with who had profound disabilities.

Facials 2
Submitted by Lynda Griffin of Helping Hand on June 24, 2004 at 04:28:59

Size: 8-10

Equipment: Towels, Face washers, bowls for water. Mixing Bowl, eggs, lemon juice. Sliced cucumber

Objective: Creates feelings of Self worth and enjoyment

Description: Beat the whites of eggs in a bowl (work out the number you need by the size of your group) until fluffy like meringue. Add a few drops of lemon juice. You can either put it on clients faces or get them to do it themselves. They then can place a slice of cucumber over each eye and relax to music. Leave mixture on face until set and then wash off with warm water. There is a lot of giggling and fun and it leaves clients faces shiny and clean. Then place a little moisturizer on hands and massage into clients faces.

Rice or Fruit Grab
Submitted by Vivian Middleton on of Lampasas Nursing & Rehab April 26, 2004

Size: 10+ can be played in teams or 1on 1

Equipment: 10lbs. rice , 2 dishpans, 2 blindfolds, 20 small objects (balls, quarters, med. caps). You can also use this with fruit by mixing the fruit and have the pick as many of one fruit as possible

Objective: sensory, hand and arm movement
using the fruit will stimulate smell also

Description: mix 5lbs rice and 10 objects in each pan. Have two people from the group blindfolded tell them. They each have 1min. to locate as many objects in the rice as they can. The one with the most when time is called wins.

Bubble Pop
Submitted by Susan on January 16, 2002

Size: 1:1

Equipment: bubble wrap sheet

Objective: sensory stim and stress management

Description: use any size of bubble wrap (for packing materials) and have the resident try and pop the bubbles. the people at my place of business absolutely love doing this. even the residents that have dementia, alzheimer's, etc......

The Wyoming Experience
submitted by Donald & Lisa Kottas of WildHeart Photos Studio on Thursday, August 14, 2003

Size: Any size at all

Equipment: any VCR player will do and Wyoming Experience video

Objective: A Visual & audio experience, allowing the patient to relax and soothe the senses, taking one on a journey. Accompanied by a fine compliment of classical ensembles that lift the spirit and soothe the soul.

Description: The Wyoming Experience is a wonderful Video filmed on location in western Wyoming, three yrs. in the making, showcasing Grizzly bears, Wild Horses, Moose, Big Horn Sheep, Antelope, Elk , Fox, Porcupine, etc. this is a non-narrative video 30 mins. in length, with excellent music, we've had excellent success with nursing homes, alzheimer's units, children's hospitals, and long term care facilities feel free to visit our web site

5 Senses Group
submitted by Theresa Zaffini of Pine Knoll Convalescent Center on Monday, January 7, 2002

Size: 1-7

Equipment: Aroma Therapy, audio therapy, and sensory items.

Objective: This group is for the hard to reach low functioning residents who usually do not respond to any type of stimulation. Our residents have MS, Huntington's Chorea, or have declined physically and are unable to participate independently. This activity offers an opportunity for the resident to get a change in surrounding and reduces contractors and breakdown and hopefully further decline.

Description: We have the nursing staff transport the residents to a dayroom, we have the aroma therapy going, we have a rehab aide that comes in and does upper and lower extremity range of motion. The activity staff reads, provides tactile and sensory stimulation to each resident. We have soft music playing. This a low functioning activity in a small group setting. We monitor each resident closely to see if they provide eye contact, pain response such as; jerking, painful facial expressions, or any verbal response. I hope this idea helps you, I know it is difficult to program for the lower functioning but we have to be the ones to help them maintain any functioning they have left and prolong physical and mental decline. This activity is also nice to include the family members to attend, so often they don't know how to visit with their loved one and this offers a time for them to care for the resident as well have a meaningful visit.

Spring Flowers
Yvonne Lombardi on Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Size: 5-6

Equipment: Assortment of fresh, scented, various colored flowers,large vase, scissors, table protector. (de-thorn roses and have approx. 6 of each flower)

Objective: Enhance sensory stimulation and social discussion, reminiscence. Best with small group. Excellent for people with dementia and visual impairment.

Description: Begin by passing round flowers to each participant. Encourage them to hold and smell each one. Provide little bits of info for each flower, eg. origin, uses, superstitions etc. Encourage them to discuss their gardens, favorite colors, flowers etc. When finished, arrange flowers in vase


Invisible Art
submitted by Amanda Shotts on January 18, 1999

Size: Any size

Equipment: Vaseline, Textured surfaces, i.e...Various textured sandpaper, swatches of cloth, wire screen, fake fur...anything that is textured.

Objective: For participants to manipulate items in their environment, and to become more aware of their environments.  (This is a hands on ful-activity).

Description: Have participants choose the type of surface they want to work with.  Once the surface has been chosen, the teacher/assistants are to tape the item down (if it will move around easily), to prevent the item from falling onto the floor.  Next, place a "glob" (about a tablespoon) of vaseline onto the textured surface.  Verbally and with gestures prompt the students to work the vaseline into their work surface.  After a certain amount of time, have the participants move to the next work area or station to experience a different textured work area.  The vaseline augments, and at times, changes the feel of the item, creating a different tactile sensation for each station.  Not only do the participants have fun manipulating the various surfaces, but the vaseline helps to moisturize their hands.   (This is a bonus in the winter).

Aroma Therapy
submitted by Michele Tarsitano, ATR-BC of Kendal at Oberlin

Size of Group: 1-16

Equipment: essential oils, light bulb diffuser, Book by Valerie Ann Worwood, "The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aroma therapy

Objective: We have been using aromas to stimulate activity, reduce agitation, assist the cognitively impaired in locating rooms, and to stimulate appetites. The Director of Nursing and myself (Director of Creative Arts Therapy)have begun a process to assist our nursing home residents with the most non-evasive treatments possible. The book by Valerie Ann Worwood has been very helpful in methodology. We are still attempting to gather data to publish, for the effectiveness in the use of aroma in our facility.

Description: For appetite: We purchased a bread machine. Placed in the dining area. 2.5 hours prior to dinner, ingredients are placed in to the machine by residents, and turned on. By dinner time, the smell is waifing down the hallways and residents are lined up to eat! We have slightly increased consumption for some residents.

For room location: Test different smells with the resident. Find one that resident particularly enjoys, or is "drawn to". 10 mins prior to meal ending, before resident goes to room, place essential oil of that resident enjoyed in room on light bulb diffuser, leave door open so that smell will be in hallway. Resident will follow smell to room.

For more information contact Michele Tarsitano at

Herbal tea party
Submitted by Shelley Park

Size: four-eight

Equipment: electric tea pot, variety of herbal teas, a "switch" to allow someone with limited mobility to turn pot on, cups, sugar, honey, milk,sponge swabs

Objective: To stimulate the senses.

Description: Boil hot water for tea using a "switch" to turn on tea pot. Make a variety of different herbal teas. Have each person in the group smell and taste the variety of teas, and if possible the participants choose their favorite.

I did this activity with people who have profound mental and physical abilities. It's a challenge for me just to keep my class awake and attentive. However, during this hour long activity the entire group stayed alert and responsive. Half the group was on feeding tubes and could not actually drink the tea, but they thoroughly enjoyed watching, smelling, and tasting the teas. This activity can be adapted to fit the needs of higher functioning groups, by using a microwave or stove top, and voting on favorite teas for "the tea of the month".

North Star
Submitted by Becky Neeley

Size of Group: 3-10, clients with Alzheimer's disease or dementia

Equipment: 1- North star shaped hanging Christmas ornament ( must be glittered )

Objective: As determined by therapist, client will display one outer sign of an emotional reaction.

Description: This activity is extremely simple; just hold ornament at a reasonable distance in front of participant, and observe their reaction. I first did this activity with a small group of Alzheimer's patients in a LTC nursing facility, and one of them had a quite amazing reaction; she gazed upon the star as if witnessing a miracle, and then tears flowed down her face. Later, members of the nursing staff told me that she had shown no emotional reaction to anything in over one year.

An experience such as this never lets us forget why we are in this profession!

submitted by Lorraine Gibson of Reactivate (for more sensory stim activities go to her web page)

The Discovery Bottle can be purchased through Reactivate, or you can follow the insert below and make it yourself!

The Discovery Bottle is a sensory kit housed in a recycled juice container. This kit can be used with all ages (6-106). However, supervision is needed as the bottle contains small objects. Use this kit as a starter kit and add objects as you experiment with various items. I would also recommend that you use this kit for intergenerational programming. Many of the items will promote stimulating discussion between the participants, regardless of their ages. First you need to get a large plastic Cranberry juice container 3.78 litre bottle. Take off the label and replace it with your own.

Add items that you think are appropriate for your particular group or individual participants. You may also want to discard some items if you feel they are not appropriate for your clients. Do not use this kit with clients in the middle and later stages of Alzheimer's Disease. Items could be mistaken as edible items and possibly eaten. 

The discovery bottle may contain the following items:

Metal slinky: Slinkies have fascinated people for years. This slinky is small (in order to fit inside the bottle!) and is metal. Use the Magnetic handle to get the slinky out of the bottle. A little childish, but a great sensory stimulation item. Discuss who had a slinky when they were a child, or who's child or grandchild had a slinky.

  • Hyper Silly Putty®: Hyper silly putty will change color with the heat of your hands. This can lead to a discussion regarding what you can tell about a person by how warm their hands are "cold hands, warm heart...." The egg shaped container fits inside the bottle. Always return the putty to its container after use. Have participants wash their hands before proceeding with the program. For hygienic reasons, if you are using this kit with more than one person, it is recommended that you purchase putty for each member of the group or participant. Please be aware that putty may stick to hands and clothing.
  • Glider ball: A small glider ball that may shock some participants, so introduce it carefully.... An eye ball?? If anything it may generate some laughter. Do not try to bounce this ball it may break, but it will skitter across the floor or table. Check out a novelty store, toy store or dollar store.
  • Magnetic Handle:  Add some large magnetic objects to the bottle. Use the handle to get the other items out of the bottle!!
  • Chinese Yo Yo: A fun, novelty item. Watch out the yo yo stretches........
  • Shell Discovery: A small clear box housing shells. The box has a magnifying top so you can see what is inside easily. Change the contents of the box often and keep your participants guessing...
  • Pencil: A strange item to add to the discovery bottle?? Yes but use it to generate discussion about how warm people's hands are. This pencil will change colors when you hold it. You may find this item in a novelty store.
  • Kaleidoscope: This is a small kaleidoscope, but try it out. Why not add a larger kaleidoscope or an item that reflects light, such as a crystal. If you are using this kit for an intergenerational program have the participants make their own kaleidoscopes.
  • Bug in a box: Another silly item??? Use this item to stimulate discussion on insects, collecting bugs.. etc..


Use the discovery bottle for an intergenerational program. Ask the children to collect items for the bottle. Why not get the children to make their own discovery bottles? All with different themes....

Or ask your adult participants to suggest items to put in the bottle. This could be a brain teaser as each item can be no wider than 1 1/4". Change the contents of the bottle weekly to add some variety to your program.

An easy, quick  program for volunteers.

* If you find the pencil too small to hold, but want to include this type of discovery in your program, try "Fickle Foam" in Reactivate's Best Picks Sensory Kit. 

Please submit other sensory stim activity ideas for others to use.

Activities & Tx pages sponsored by compuTR and maintained by Charles Dixon
If reprinting ideas from these pages, please give credit.


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