Enhancing Well-being in Aged Care: The Power of Sensory Play, Movement, Music, and Doll Therapy

Enhancing Well-being in Aged Care: The Power of Sensory Play, Movement, Music, and Doll Therapy

Watching a loved one in aged care can be tough, especially when they seem bored or disconnected. But there are ways to make their lives more enjoyable and meaningful. Sensory play, movement, and doll therapy aren’t just for kids—they’re also great for seniors, especially those dealing with stress and dementia.

Here’s how these activities can help, backed by Australian research.

Why These Activities Matter

Keeping the Brain Active: Simple activities that engage the senses can keep the brain sharp. Australian research shows that sensory activities can help slow down the progression of dementia by stimulating brain connections.

Reducing Stress and Boosting Mood: Sensory play and movement activities are great for reducing stress and lifting spirits. Studies from the Australian Psychological Society found that these activities can significantly reduce anxiety and improve emotional well-being in aged care residents.

Improving Physical Health: Keeping active, even with gentle exercises, improves circulation, balance, and strength. This is super important for preventing falls and keeping seniors mobile. The University of Sydney found that regular physical activity like Tai Chi can greatly enhance physical health in older adults.

Building Social Connections: Group activities can help seniors feel less lonely and more connected to others. An Australian study showed that social programs in aged care significantly improve social interactions and reduce feelings of isolation.

Helping with Memory and Emotions: Activities like doll therapy can evoke memories and help seniors express their emotions, much like how kids use play to express themselves. Research from the Australian Institute of Music Therapy highlights how these activities can improve emotional expression and recall in dementia patients.

Overall Quality of Life: Engaging activities can greatly improve the quality of life for aged care residents, making their days more enjoyable and fulfilling. The Aged Care Royal Commission's report emphasised the importance of these activities in improving the lives of seniors.

Practical Ideas for Sensory Activities

1. Tactile Activities:

  • Gardening: Let seniors plant flowers, veggies, or herbs. The feel of the soil and the sight of growing plants can be very soothing.
  • Playdough: Playing with playdough is not just for kids. It's a great way to engage the senses and be creative.
  • Construction with Cardboard: Encourage building projects using cardboard. It’s fun and stimulates creativity.
  • Folding Cards and Origami: Simple folding activities can be relaxing and improve hand-eye coordination.
  • Beading Pasta or Beads onto String: This activity is great for fine motor skills and can be very calming.
  • Simple Puzzles: Working on puzzles helps with problem-solving skills and provides a sense of accomplishment.
  • Twirling Hands in Soft Water Bubbles or Shredded Paper: These tactile sensations can be very soothing and fun.

2. Movement-Based Activities:

  • Chair Yoga and Tai Chi: Gentle exercises that improve flexibility, strength, and balance while promoting relaxation and mindfulness.
  • Dance Therapy: Encourage dancing sessions suited to their mobility level. The rhythmic movement can boost mood and energy.

3. Aromatherapy with Real Herbs:

  • Using Real Herbs: Incorporate real herbs into sensory experiences. Touching and smelling fresh herbs while engaging in water play or gardening, or using them in baking, can be very engaging and enjoyable.

4. Doll Therapy:

  • Therapeutic Dolls: Provide realistic dolls for seniors with dementia. Holding and interacting with dolls can offer comfort, reduce anxiety, and evoke nurturing feelings. An Australian study found that doll therapy significantly reduced agitation and increased positive social behaviour in dementia patients.
  • Themed Activities: Organise activities around the dolls, such as dressing them or creating stories, to engage seniors in imaginative play.

5. Nature-Based Activities:

  • Nature Walks: Take seniors on walks in gardens or parks. The sights, sounds, and smells of nature are naturally calming.
  • Bird Watching: Set up bird feeders near windows and provide binoculars and bird identification books to encourage bird watching from inside or during walks.

6. Art and Creative Expression:

  • Painting and Drawing: Offer supplies for painting and drawing, focusing on the process rather than the outcome. This allows for emotional expression and can be very meditative.
  • Clay and Sculpting: Provide clay or playdough for sculpting. The tactile experience of moulding and shaping can be soothing and therapeutic.

7. Reminiscence Therapy:

  • Memory Boxes: Create memory boxes with items from the seniors’ pasts, such as photographs, letters, and memorabilia. Handling these items can stimulate memories and conversations. Research from the University of Queensland supports the effectiveness of reminiscence therapy in improving mood and cognitive function in older adults.
  • Storytelling Sessions: Encourage seniors to share their life stories and experiences in group settings or one-on-one. Listening and sharing can provide a sense of connection and validation.

Tips for Making It Work

  • Personalisation: Tailor activities to what your loved one likes and can do. Everyone is different, so find what works best for them.
  • Consistency: Try to make these activities a regular part of their routine. It helps create structure and something to look forward to.
  • Comfortable Environment: Make sure the environment is safe and comfortable. Pay attention to lighting, noise levels, and accessibility.
  • Staff Involvement: Encourage the staff to get involved and support these activities. Their engagement can make a big difference.

By incorporating these activities into daily routines, aged care facilities can create a nurturing and stimulating environment that significantly enhances the well-being and calm of seniors, especially those experiencing stress and dementia. Remember, these aren’t child-like activities—they're important sensory experiences for all ages.


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. "Dementia in Australia." (2020).
  2. Australian Psychological Society. "The Role of Sensory Activities in Reducing Stress in Aged Care." (2019).
  3. University of Sydney. "The Benefits of Tai Chi for Older Adults." (2021).
  4. Australian Government Department of Health. "Social Programs in Aged Care." (2020).
  5. Dementia Collaborative Research Centre. "Cognitive and Sensory Activities for Dementia Patients." (2021).
  6. Australian Institute of Music Therapy. "Music Therapy for Emotional Expression in Dementia." (2020).
  7. Aged Care Royal Commission. "Interim Report: Aged Care Quality and Safety." (2020).
  8. University of Melbourne. "Doll Therapy in Dementia Care." (2019).
  9. University of Queensland. "Reminiscence Therapy for Older Adults." (2020).


To learn more strategies and join a supportive community, come and check out our online dementia play therapy platform

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.