Happy Aging is a unique series focused on how to help you age well. These stories have been created in cooperation with AARP and Word In Black.

When we’re chewing ice in between sips of a beverage or listening to music, we’re activating our senses. Sensory stimulation helps us feel present in our bodies and connected to the world through vision, hearing, smell, taste, or touch. Studies show that sensory stimulation in long-term care can also improve communication and cognition. As a caregiver, it’s helpful to participate in sensory activities to feel human. These activities include:

Going for a walk outdoors 

A change of place can help balance complex emotions. If you’ve finished a stressful conversation with a loved one or a physician, then take a quick walk in nature. Being around plant and animal life can be calming. Feel the dirt or grass under your feet. Appreciate the foliage. Hug a tree. If you’re up for an adventure, then consider visiting a park or botanic garden. Botanic gardens in Baltimore, Detroit, Sacramento, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. offer free admission. 

Interacting with old memories

Imagine yourself at a table surrounded by old photographs and objects from your past (games, awards, clothes). Where were you in the photos? Who was with you? How did you feel at the time? Reminiscent objects help strengthen memory and social connection. Sometimes, a trip to the past can help you feel good in the present moment. A visit to a local museum can activate your senses, too – or even watching a classic movie. 

Playing a video game

Research from AARP has found that video gamers over 50 years old have increased by 30% in the past six years. Video games create an empowering feeling of being in another world. Some fun games include logic and trivia. Here are a few to get started

Preparing a meal

Cooking naturally activates the senses. When you’re preparing a salad, for example, you are working with the textures and smells of the leafy greens, vegetables, and other ingredients. You are washing and chopping the ingredients with care. You are, perhaps, singing to them in gratitude. You might catch a whiff of basil or pepper and even sneeze. The process of meal preparation can be as stimulating as tasting the meal itself. Here are some recipes to try.

Working with certain scents 

Scents can have a healing effect by easing nerves, opening nasal passages, strengthening concentration, and sharpening memory. You can apply some scents as essential oils to your skin or clothing or place in a diffuser. 

Giving or receiving a massage

This can be as simple as applying lotion (with or without a scent) to your hands, shoulders, arms, and legs. You could also see a professional masseuse or invest in a personal massager. 

Dancing or yoga

A blend of freeflow and controlled movements is a great way to activate your senses. The movements can help you feel in tune with your body. Dancing and yoga are similar in that they help you regulate deeper and longer breathing. Yoga is a practice rooted in a set of beliefs about the relationship between the body and the divine. Some yoga positions might be energizing, while other forms are soothing. Many dance forms are also rooted in spiritual beliefs. Dancing with a partner can activate your touch, sight, and smell. Watching performances can also provide sensory stimulation (ie feeling the excitement of the crowd at a concert). Tai chi is another good option, too

Interacting with different temperatures

Have you ever felt refreshed being in a steam room or a cold storage area? Changes in temperature can stimulate certain energy pathways in our bodies, leaving us feeling relaxed or energized with minimal effort. Here are some of the benefits of cold therapy, for example.