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Nature & Nurture – a multi-sensory project for people living with dementia

lower basket

C&C are excited to share an innovative multi-sensory project piloted in their care homes for people living with dementia. 

The project was conceived and led by C&C’s award-winning Creative Arts team, who aim to enhance wellbeing, provide motivation and give older residents the chance to learn new skills and be creative. Having previously won funding from the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames’ Community Learning department, the Creative Arts team were keen to develop a new project for dementia residents in care homes that promoted health and wellbeing. 

Inspired by feedback from care home staff and residents, C&C’s Creative Arts Co-ordinator, Alison Teader approached two therapists - Maria Harvey- Lavin, an Aromatherapist and Reflexologist and Jackie Power, an Herbalist and Aromatherapy Practitioner. Together they devised “Nature and Nurture, a six week project which incorporated relaxation techniques, healthy living and craft activities to pilot at C&C’s Richmond based care home, Cecil Court. 

Each session started with herb teas, presented in attractive china cups, providing a talking point and a sense of occasion. An iPad was used to take pictures of the herbs, flower displays and tea service - this formed the basis of the start of each session; the pictures were viewed by all participants which generated a great deal of interest and excitement. It also helped address the commonly asked questions such as “Why am I here?” and “What are we doing”? By providing an easily understandable and recognisable context for people with dementia, it allowed them relax and enjoy the group situation, lessening their anxiety. In order to stimulate participant’s taste and appetite, they were offered a chance to try things they might not normally have access to.

One session focused specifically on lavender encouraging participants to feel and smell harvested flower heads and share their memories or associations with the scent. Bottles of lavender oil were also passed around to smell and lavender gel to apply to pulse points. This multi-sensory approach proved very effective, allowing people to interact with the activity in a variety of different ways. Lavender is one of the safest essential oil to use - and the most appropriate to use for people with dementia; this is due to its natural sedative properties which can promote relaxation, reduce anxiety and improve sleep patterns. 

Another session of the project ‘Caring for the Carer’ was designed specifically for staff, relatives and volunteers. The aim was to give attendees an insight into the activities offered to residents in order to understand the benefits. Participants were also shown how to incorporate elements of the relaxation and wellbeing into their working life.  

In order to reach some of the more withdrawn residents in the home, the facilitators used multi-sensory trolleys stacked with a stimulating range of objects, including flowers, bunches of dried herbs, pot plants and vibrant vegetables (e.g. pumpkins and squash) plus essential oils. These were wheeled into the lounge, and used as a way to engage people in conversation or non-verbal activity. 

By bringing the outside world into the home and giving people access to nature we were able to stimulate participant’s senses, which contributed to the project’s success.  Other multi-sensory activities included a singalong with garden themed songs to celebrate the natural world and tie the project together. 

The project received great reviews from both residents and in particular staff who were impressed by the level of resident engagement. The ‘Caring for the Carers’ session also assisted in improving staff morale and knowledge. Participants clearly enjoyed the different kinds of stimulation the project aroused and also gave positive comments after each session.

Following the successful pilot of the “Nature & Nurture” project at Cecil Court, C&C will be offering regular sessions for staff and residents with hopes to develop similar projects in other care homes