Reaching out through the senses

Rhythm, sound, colors and shapes activate human emotion. In every culture and throughout history, our 5 senses have served as vehicles to connect and relate to the world: as our receptors, helping us internalize as well as “emitters”, transmitting, creating from and materializing our emotions. We have known, even before inventing it or learning it, that language is not the only way to communicate nor is it always the most effective; as it is not always the most spontaneous or honest.

The sense of touch- caressing, holding a hand, hugging – is how we first know we are loved as babies and has been proven critical for the development of our brain as infants. Who has not been reassured by a soft touch on the shoulder or a hand holding ours as we walk unknown territories? Studies have shown that expressive physical touch and touch therapy can be of extreme help in relieving anxiety in dementia patients as well as in decreasing behavioral symptoms such as restlessness and wondering and most importantly, it is the primal way of connecting with our loved ones.

Here is a short video showing the impact of touch and reminding us to be respectful of the person whom we touch:

Because people living with Alzheimer´s tend to express what they think and feel at the moment, they are natural artists and natural audiences for artistic expressions. The more someone is in touch with his or her feelings, the more he or she can appreciate art

Art touches and engages the brain in a more profound way than other activities. Music, painting, sculpture, comedy, drama, and poetry, and other arts link together separate brain locations in which memories and skills lie. Music, for example, touches parts of the brain that link what we sense, know, and feel.

Through research and direct observation, the American organization ARTZ – Artists for Alzheimer´s- has already established that art experiences can significantly reduce certain psycho-behavioral symptoms so often associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Dr. Oliver Sacks:

“Where I work at a hospital and at a number of old age homes, there are a lot of people who have Alzheimer’s or other dementias of one sort or another. Some of them are confused, some are agitated, some are lethargic, some have almost lost language. But all of them, without exception, respond to music. This is especially true of old songs and songs they once knew”

These seem to touch springs of memory and emotion which may be completely inaccessible to them. It is most amazing to see people who are out of it and sort of dark respond suddenly to a music therapist and a familiar song. The parts of the brain which respond to music are very close to the parts of the brain concerned with memory, emotion and mood.

To see the magic power of music in action follow this link:

Dr. Carmen Antúnez, Directress of the Dementia Unit at the University Hospital “Virgen de la Arrixaca”, in Murcia, Spain, has reached the following conclusion:

“The arts, in all its manifestations, and gastronomy is one of them, is deeply rooted in our nature. It has become genetic, it is carnal. From the scientific point of view, I assure you that this is marked in our brain and it is an extraordinary tool for dementia therapy, as we are demonstrating in our research”

Finally there is one more sense, the sense of humor, which for persons with dementia, persists despite increasing difficulties with communication. Here we are on more possible channel to effectively connect with them.


• Woods DL, Craven RF, Whitney J. The effect of therapeutic touch on behavioral symptoms of persons with dementia. College of Nursing, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, USA.
• E.J Kim and MT Buschmann. The effect of expressive physical touch on patients with dementia. International Journal of Nursing Studies Volume 36, Issue 3, June 1999, Pages 235–243
• John Zeisel, Ph.D. I am still here, page 81
• Madeline Gleeson and Fiona Timmins Touch a Fundamental Aspect of Communication with Older People Experiencing Dementia. Nursing Older People Vol16 no2 Pages 18-21
• Dr. Oliver Sacks, Professor of Neurology & Psychiatry, Columbia University
• Transcription of Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia – Alzheimer’s/The Power of Music
• Carmen Antúnez Almagro, Directress of the Dementia Unit at the University Hospital “Virgen de la Arrixaca”, Murcia
• (Cohen & Eisdorfer 1986, 22) (Bowlby 1993, 43)
• (Green 1991) (Bowlby 1993 47)
• Juan Cruz Palacios, guitarrista y filólogo.