A couple of weeks ago Emily, the Dementia Cafe founder, and I were talking a lot about sensory shelves and how important they are for people coping with dementia.
Why? Because whether it’s through touch, smell, sight or sound people living with the disease will often remember things through mental / physical stimulation. For example, if a relative wore a particular scent for years, let’s say Chanel No 5, even just a small spritz of it around her room could bring back precious memories.
Sensory items are now more popular than ever, and there are plenty of companies who stock wonderful ranges of unique products. However, things like bubble lamps, fidget cushions and light projectors aren’t always cheap. For example, depending on where you shop a bubble lamp can easily cost over £100, and those from special sensory catalogues can cost far more!
However, you can get much cheaper options online at places like eBay or it might be worth having a look in your local charity shop. Some sensory items do tend to take up space and may not necessarily be appropriate depending on the person’s environment. So, inspired by our own knowledge we’ve gone and created the DC Sensory Shelf Challenge!
Here’s the thing, sensory shelves are fantastic fun to build as well as being a brilliant source of comfort to anyone with dementia. Trouble is, we knew what people might say, such as ‘I don’t have any cash spare’ so we did it as cheaply as possible. Firstly, we laid down some basic ground rules: We weren’t allowed to use any coloured paint, because paint is expensive, and we set ourselves a two-hour time limit. We would construct our ‘shelves’ out of cardboard boxes donated for free by local shops and I volunteered to create a shelf for a fiver , yes only five pounds! While Emily plumped for seeing what she could do for a mere tenner.
We could add things we found around the house but only if they were financially suitable i.e. we couldn’t perch an iPad on top and say it was part of the design! Basing them on what we thought would be stylish yet 100% sensory. Mind you what started as a bit of fun, showing that anyone, no matter how little cash they have can build / create a shelf quickly grew a tad bit competitive with each of us jokingly ‘hiding’ our various props.
Now, something our readers may not know is that Emily actually has a degree in design. Yes, I was going up against someone who has previously created multiple professional projects. But I didn’t think of that at the time I just focused in on what I believed a good sensory shelf needed.
I’m a huge fan of different fabrics/material and knew I wanted to incorporate lots of textures into my shelf. I spent a couple of pounds on lots of sparkly animal stickers, and beads as well as another pound on a silver ribbon which I wove through the roof of the shelf. I bought a tiny, weeny bottle of scented shampoo and a glittery keyring along with a few buttons that I could make into a chain of sorts.
Luckily, I was able to source lots of different scraps of fabric from home and donated an old cheap fibre optic lamp to sit on top of my shelf. All in all, I was pretty proud of it, but as you’ll see/hear Emily really understands dementia and what can be used to trigger certain memories or allow someone to communicate non-verbally. I’ve included a lovely little podcast of us both explaining our shelves in more detail as well as lots of pictures / video to show that anyone, yes anyone can create a truly awesome sensory shelf. For an in-depth audio guide to how we created our DIY sensory shelves just hit play below!
You don’t need lots of money, just a little bit of imagination and a few hours to spare. You could even design a bespoke shelf that compliments your loved one’s interests i.e. if they love gardening why not include a couple of flower cuttings? A packet of seeds? A clean spade or watering can? If motoring was a big passion of theirs you could include a toy car, a pair of driving gloves and a page of a map or A-Z because you never know what they’ll remember.
Above all, don’t worry if you aren’t a crafty person because as time goes on you’ll be having so much fun it won’t matter what you come up with. Not got much time? You could just do the decorating itself and buy a cheap set of ready-made wooden shelves.
No matter what you choose to do you can be sure that it’ll give your loved one hours of enjoyment as they explore the various objects within. To prove that Emily bought her items at Poundland she even took some pictures of the shelves! It just goes to show that with a tiny budget you can still achieve amazing things. You don’t need hours and hours either, with just a few materials you can create a sensory shelf that will make all the difference to someone with a cognitive disability. It may not seem much to you but to someone with limited interaction, due to bedrest it will make all the difference in the world!
Emily also sourced a wonderfully soft leafy throw for her mother, Primark £4, and grabbed a nail varnish set which she donated to her mother’s care home for all the residents to enjoy.
Should you decide to take up the DC Sensory Shelf Challenge, we’d love to see the results!