Dementia And The Benefits Of Hand Massage For Sensory Stimulation

Elderly woman with dementia receiving hand massage

Over 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia. My husband’s grandma had vascular dementia, and it’s likely you know someone living with the disease. Dementia changes how we communicate with our loved ones, and sensory stimulation (engaging the senses in natural and creative ways) is so important to bring people together, create a meaningful connection and improve your loved one’s wellbeing.

What Is Sensory Stimulation (And Why Is It Important)?

When someone has dementia, they lose their ability to connect with the outside world. Sensory stimulation gives them a way to express themselves other than with words. It’s all about activating one or more of the senses (touch, hearing, smell, taste and sight) to trigger positive emotions and memories.

An act as simple and calming as a hand massage with beautiful smelling oil, listening to music from their past or looking at family photos can encourage memories and help your loved one feel and express their emotion. It’s all about finding an activity that the person living with dementia can relate back to their life.

There’s a real link between dementia and anxiety and by creating this outlet, sensory stimulation can help to reduce anxiety and have a positive effect on mood and cognition.

From creating a virtual seaside to an indoor garden for some ‘green care’, we’ve rounded up our favourite calming and fun activities for people living with dementia.

The Healing Power Of Touch

After the year we’ve all had where touch was so limited, it’s exciting to look at the benefits of touch and dementia.

Touch is such an important human need and language of love which is why we’re so happy to have come across Senss Serenity, a hand and arm massage serum that smells amazing and glides easily over fragile skin.

Inspired by the founders’ first-hand experience with dementia, they are now working with MHA Care Home to bring massage to their residents.   

ElWell talks to Senss about hand massage for dementia

Massage And Dementia

Massage can be magic for people living with dementia. The act of touching hands is familiar to them, meaning that a hand massage should be well received.

Just a five minute gentle hand massage can encourage a physical relaxation response in the brain and decrease cortisol levels (the stress hormone).

At the same time, massage can increase serotonin levels which regulate mood and increases feeling of calm and relaxation.

The Senss serum can take this sensory activity to the next level. The essential oils including geranium, rosemary and lavender were chosen for their wellbeing benefits. When you combine this with the delicate fragrance and the physical benefits of massage for dementia, it creates a calming and restorative experience.

Senss massage oil for dementia

Benefits Of Massage Therapy For Dementia

MHA is the UK’s largest charity care provider. They’re committed to providing person-centred care and use different ways (e.g. music therapy, massage for dementia and art) to improve residents’ wellbeing.

Senss is working with MHA to show that massage can help reduce the physical and emotional distress that leads to behavioural symptoms of dementia.

And the results from the massage therapists have been amazing, as you can see from these examples:

Slight state of confusion, invited to the hand massage, not much co-operationConfused talking but becomes more and more clear thoughts, is now becoming a mutual conversationGood feeling on her hands, regained lots of hand mobility, soft hands make her feel good, lots of stories about her family
Wasn’t particularly interested in hand massageGives stories of his work, showing personality and characterHe recommended being signed in for next massage as really enjoyed it
Feedback from therapists on using hand massage for dementia patients

There are other benefits of hand massage for the elderly. As the example above shows it can help with hand mobility, especially in people with arthritis and Parkinson’s disease who struggle with grip.

How To Hand Massage

Not sure how to give a hand massage? No worries, follow these eight steps from Senss and enjoy being in the moment with your loved one.

  1. Apply Senss Massage Serum to your hands and rub them together to warm the oil before taking your loved one’s hand in yours. Hold for a moment as this helps your loved one become used to your touch and feel calm and relaxed.
  2. Use both hands to stroke their hand and forearm using slow, gentle movements and some light pressure: run your hands up and down the front and back of the forearm from just below the elbow joint down to the wrist. This will help the muscles warm and relax. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
  3. Moving to the hands, gently hold their hand in both of yours, with the back of the hand facing up. With both thumbs gently massage the back of the hand, moving from the middle of the hand to the outside, then from their wrist to the base of their fingers. Rub in a circular motion towards the heart.
  4. With your thumb and index finger, rub the top of each of your loved one’s fingers and thumb in the direction of the fingertips.
  5. Now, turn your loved one’s hand over so the palm is facing upwards, continuing to rest it on a flat surface. Check that you still have enough massage oil for your hand to glide soothingly over the skin. Using your thumbs as before, apply a tiny bit of gentle pressure and rub in a circular motion, massaging the palm, mount of Venus and area where the fingers join the hand. Remember your motions should always go towards the heart.
  6. Still with their palm facing up, use your thumb and index finger, to rub each finger gently from fingertip towards the palm – again, working in the direction of the heart.
  7. Finally, use a gentle stroking motion to massage from the palm of the hand back up to the elbow joint.
  8. Repeat for the other arm and hand.

Sensory Activities For Dementia

We’ve largely looked at touch here, but here’s some other fantastic sensory stimulation activities to try:

  • Music therapy: You know that feeling you get when your favourite old song comes on? Tap into that and play your mum or dad music from their childhood to bring back memories and facilitate communication or movement. Try Playlist For Life for a great and free selection.
  • Armchair Gallery: Bring your loved one’s favourite art to them with this app. Let them discover a virtual gallery or colour in artwork on screen.
  • Fidget blanket for dementia: These sensory mats, also known as a fiddle blanket, provide tactical stimulation. Items made from textured fabrics and interesting shapes are attached, giving people living with dementia something to explore and keep their hands busy at the same time.
  • Going for a walk in the sunshine: Staying active can go some way to preventing cognitive decline and communicating.
  • Make a sensory box: Fill a box with sensory items that are specific to your loved one. From shells to remind them of the seaside to different types of dried pasta if they loved to cook, it’s an easy way to keep interaction going.


Sensory activities and the benefits of human touch can have such a positive impact on people living with dementia, reducing agitation from memory loss and more.

As we start to come out of lockdown, it’s so important to look at ways we can re-introduce the healing power of touch to our loved ones to improve quality of life. Senss, and the work they’re doing with the MHA dementia friendly care is showing just how necessary this is.

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