Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) in Senior Patients

A senior nurse is one of the most noble occupations one can have, allowing them to care for older people in their vulnerable moments.

A common disorder you’ll encounter in this field is sensory processing disorder.

Sensory processing disorder patients have a brain condition that affects how they process sensory information. SPD patients may have difficulty interpreting and reacting to sensory input from their surroundings, which leads to difficulty in social interaction and daily functions. If you’re interested in caring for such parents, you’ll have to pursue a specialty, like this MSN AGPCNP program, to get your license. In this article, we will discuss how as a geriatric nurse, you can care for your patients with SPD.

How Nurses Care for Senior Patients With Sensory Processing Disorders


You can take these six steps to ensure care for senior patients with SPD, but remember that every patient is unique, and their needs may vary.

1. Educate Yourself on Sensory Processing Disorder and Your Patients


Sensory processing disorder patients deal with sensory challenges, which you need to familiarize yourself with as a nurse working with them. The main difficulties are hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity. Hypersensitive patients experience sensory input more intensely than regular patients, which makes them uncomfortable in loud areas, and they can pick up sensory information that others do not usually pick up, like the buzzing of a light bulb.

On the other hand, hyposensitivity patients have decreased sensitivity to new stimuli. This makes them vulnerable to getting hurt as they have sensory-seeking behaviors such as bumping into places.

Education also includes assessing and recognizing the individual needs of each patient since every parent with SPD may have different sensory sensitivities and preferences. You must assess every patient and understand their triggers and responses to specific sensory stimuli. Communicating with family members and other healthcare providers to understand their needs will help.

2. Make a Sensory-Friendly Environment for Your Patients

You must focus on creating an ideal environment to minimize sensory overload for your patients. This can start with reducing bright lights, especially fluorescent lighting, since its flickering and brightness can be overstimulating. However, if you have too many fluorescent lights, try covering a few with fabric to diffuse the sensation.

Natural light is the best option, but too many windows can be a distraction, too, so covering them with sheer panels or sheets will decrease their visual intensity and light the light in. When going out, you can also make your patient wear a hat to reduce visual overstimulation.

Loud noises can also cause overstimulation, so create a quiet and calm environment. Additionally, keep their surroundings clean and minimalist since visual clutter due to too many objects can make it difficult for them to maneuver and affect their balance and visual stimulation.

Even senior patients can have a meltdown due to sensory overload. So during those times, try to give them their own space, and you can also create a quiet corner with comfortable seating and decreased sensations to help them calm down.

3. Communicate Properly and Effectively


If your patient has auditory sensitivity, they hear multiple sounds simultaneously. This makes it very difficult for them to focus on communicating with you. Additionally, one-third of older adults have hearing loss which can make it more difficult for them to hear you.

To ensure your patients understand, you use clear and simple language when speaking to your patient. You can also use your body language and non-verbal cues to ensure your patient understands you.

4. Respect Your Patient’s Personal Space and Touch

Some SPD patients may have an aversion to specific kinds of physical contact or touch. Due to this, always ask for the patient’s consent before touching them and respect their boundaries. If your patient has sensory sensitivities, try to understand and accommodate their needs.

5. Provide Them With Sensory Techniques and Tools


Sensory tools and techniques can help senior patients with SPD to self-regulate and manage their sensory input. This includes providing sensory toys, weighted blankets, and fidget tools and breaks in a quiet place when they have sensory overload.

Having movement makes SPD patients filter out outside sensory information, so it’s a great way to make them calm and regulated by organizing their nervous system. This movement can be provided through furniture such as ball chairs, balance boards, or wiggle cushions. Make sure these are safe for your patients since seniors are more susceptible to falling and injuring themselves than others.

One gadget you can use to calm your patients is a fidget. You’ll find them in many types, such as desk fidgets, putty, gel tools, or foot fidgets, to encourage your patients to move their hands and feet. These tools can also cause reduced stress and strengthen intrinsic hand muscles for your patients.

Sensory seekers with hyposensitivity seek movement, and their craving can be fulfilled by adding resistance to their movement through heavy work. Something like resistance bands so your patient can stretch when they want to can help them feel calm. Added weight also relaxes the patient by sending calming signals to the nervous system, which relaxes the patient’s skin and joint proprioceptors. You can achieve this using weighted blankets, compression vests, or lap pads.  You can explore and be involved in therapeutic activities. These activities can be:

  • Gentle exercises
  • Music therapy
  • Sensory integration activities
  • Aromatherapy
  • Relaxation techniques

You can also consult with therapists and doctors for recommendations.

6. Involve Caregivers and Family


Educate and involve family members and caregivers of the patients in the care plan. Provide them with information about SPD and strategies that they can use to support their loved ones. Show them empathy and actively listen to any of their concerns to help them find solutions for them.

Keep the family informed about the patient’s condition and health status using simple language, not medical terminology, to make them feel involved and ensure they get holistic and consistent care. Encourage them to have open communication and to tell you any of their observations about the patient’s condition, as they may have some valuable insights that can help in providing quality care.



To care for your patients with SPD, you need to educate yourself on SPD and your patient’s specific condition to make a sensory-friendly environment for them to feel comfortable in. Communicate with your patients using clear and straightforward language while respecting their personal space and touch. You can also provide them with sensory tools and techniques, such as sensory toys and fidget tools, to reduce and regulate their sensory input. Involve their caregivers and family by explaining all your strategies for the patient’s care to make it more effective.