stimulation refers to the impact the environment has on our
minds and bodies as we receive information through our sensory
organs and our brains interpret this input. Usually sensory stimulation
involves one person providing the stimulation to another person such as
someone is passively receiving a massage or has fur rubbed on his
sometimes a person can merely
sit outside to enjoy the
visual stimulation of the trees, olfactory stimulation of flowers,
auditory stimulation of birds, tactile stimulation of the wind and
vestibular stimulation of the rocking chair.
Click on photo for visual stimulation.
Occupational therapists often talk about providing sensory stimulation
to a person who is so disabled she is only able to passively receive
the stimulation. This may be a coma patient, severely
developmentally delayed child or adult or a victim of Alzheimer's
disease. Sensory stimulation is used as a way to involve the
person with the environment, bring pleasure and it provides a medium
for interaction with a person who otherwise, has limited abilities to
provides input to our:
Visual System through receptor
in our eyes.
Auditory System through
receptors in our ears.
Tactile System through
receptors in our skin.
Olfactory System through
receptors in our nose.
Gustatory System through
receptors on our tongues
Proprioceptive System through
receptors in our muscles and joints.
Vestibular System through
movement and balance receptors in our inner ear.
However, sensory integration is very
different than sensory
Sensory integration involves active
participation. Therapists guide the children to develop adaptive
responses to sensory activities. For example, the child who
learns how to pump the legs to swing independently has developed an
important adapted response to the vestibular and proproprioceptive
input of swinging.
Sensory stimulation, on the
other hand is passive and the therapist is providing the stimulation to
another person. Perhaps the person will smile in response and be more
aware of the environment but the goal of therapy is not specifically to
promote adaptive responses.
Why is Sensory Stimulation so
We all need stimulation and much as been written about the effects of
no stimulation on prisoners in solitary confinement and
institutionalized patients who did not receive proper care. They
may hallucinate or stimulate themselves by head banging, rocking or
biting. Sensory stimulation and interaction with the environment is
critical to maintain the highest level of awareness and connectedness
provide visual stimulation from the very beginning with both beautiful
objects in the natural world and toys such as picture books and crib
mobiles. People who are passive may not look around or be
understand what they are seeing in the distance. Therefore, they
benefit from stimulating objects being brought close to the face.
combine both auditory and visual stimulation are great because the
sound will attract the person's attention to look at the object. This
ball makes an interesting sound when the beads move around and the
movement of the beads catches the eye.
tubes can be filled with interesting objects which make sounds when the
tube is rotated. This tube is sold to hold long light
bulbs. The contents can be little pieces of bright plastic,
beads, jewelry pieces, necklace chains, anything bright and shiny and
small. Click on the picture for a larger view.
involve purchasing the small plastic piece in the center which has
threads on each side. Screw a soda bottle to each end. Fill the bottle
with water. You can add food coloring, glitter or even shiny
plastic confetti for a visual effect. It is fun to watch the
water swirl down into the lower tube. Place the person's hand on the
bottle to feel the movement.
Bright visual toys with moving parts
may catch the person's attention. Move a flashlight slowly across
the visual field to see if the person's eyes follow the movement.
Bright lights can be fun and stimulating but be careful with flashing
lights which may be irritating and cause seizures.
Shiny paper such as
mylar is often very attractive and multisensory since it feels and
sounds interesting when squeezed. On the left is an inside out potato
chip bags filled with packing peanuts placed inside a mesh bag for an
additional texture. On the right is mylar paper.
Music is often a very powerful
stimulation, especially since it is so varied and holds personal
meaning associated with the person's past. Objects which make other
sounds can be fun. This "Groan Stick" makes a funny sound when rotated
and there are many toys on the market which make animal and other types
Bells were placed
inside this plastic packaging and secured with red duct tape to make a
shaker. Residents might enjoy bells which are strapped around the wrist
to shake, grasping or just listening to other types of shakers.
Different sounds can be made by putting marbles, pennies or water into
small juice bottles.
Marbles were inserted inside this toy
and the ends taped closed. It makes a great sound when shaken.
Try to place the resident's hand on the object while gently shaking it.
Make a tape recording of familiar environmental sounds such as children
playing, animals, cars beeping, phones rining, a familiar
television theme song and the voices of loved ones.
Massagers come in all different shapes
and sizes. Some vibrate and others are just rolled along the
body. Sensory catalogs and stores also sell vibrating pillows and long
tubes which can be wrapped around the shoulders. Vibrating balls are
sold for children and vibrating pens are designed to make writing
fun. However, when the pen point is removed, you have a wonderful
device which fits inside the hand.
There are lots of different types of
textured balls which feel great when placed in the hand. Perhaps the
person is able to use these tactile toys in an activity such as
dropping them into a box.
A therapist might gently
rub pleasant textures such as satin, fur or velvet along the arms
This furry bag feels great. There is a
squeaky dog toy inside. A gentle push makes the sound.
Higher functioning individuals can use such a bag in a game of catch or
pass it around in a circle.
and proprioceptive stimulation really go hand in hand. Vibration and
weighted objects such as this sand bag provide proprioceptive input.
likes the weight of a bag filled with sand or water on her
lap. Higher functioning individuals may be able to use such
objects in games or activities such as placing them in a box or pushing
them off the table.
My mother is holding a bag filled with water and plastic fish. It
is marketed for babies. You can also fill an ice bag sold in drug
stores or even a disposable glove with water. Place the glove in the
person's hand to squeeze.
squishy pillows filed with microbeads feel great on the lap and under
or around the head. They are sold in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors
and designed like stuffed animals.
older people find their sense of taste and smell reduced and
enjoy foods with strong tastes to stimulate their pallete.
Thanksgiving is often the best day of taste and smell stimulation
nursing homes and other institutions.
scents or aromas can be provided by either holding the bottle below the
nose or spraying a mist nearby. Many lotions and massage oils have
pleasant aromas which they can smell as the hands and arms are
It's not an accident that
we associate elderly people with rocking chairs. The rhythmic, back and
forth, slow movement is relaxing, yet stimulating. There are
special rockers which can be attached to wheelchairs.
However, a relaxing wheelchair trip through a facility or better yet
the great outdoors can be very stimulating and enjoyable.