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Scattered throughout our bodies are various receptors: nerve endings designed to take in information from our environment or for monitoring internal information about us.
We have various senses. These are particular groupings of these receptors which have an individualised function – a particular job to do, which involves sending information about the outside world back to the brain.
These include the auditory, visual, tactile, proprioceptive, olfactory (scent), gustatory (taste) pathways. Sensory therapies influencing these senses are used as neuroplasticity therapies to positively influence brain function. This means that we can use stimulation of these senses to aid the brain.
They can be used to target particular areas of the brain, however, because the brain operates via connectomes (several areas being used together to carry out a task or operation), they can often influence more than just a particular region of a brain.
Sensory therapies can be used to as neuroplasticity therapies create, restore, improve or maintain function in the brain.
Sensory therapies include:
- Auditory therapies
- Vision therapies
- Olfactory /Scent therapies
- Gustatory therapies
- Sensory Integration therapy
Scroll down for more information on each.
There are several types of sensory therapies, including those below:
These are sound therapies designed to stimulate and heal regions, connectomes and pathways in the brain associated with listening. This includes pure distinction of noise, interpretation of noise, and even the emotions associated with that noise (or commonly, music).
Many will start with a listening test. This is different to a hearing test because it measures how the brain is processing the sounds it hears.
These therapies include Vision Therapy and Behavioural Optometry. They use visual stimulation (or sometimes occlusion / blocking out of visual stimulation) to address visual and visual processing issues.
Olfactory / Scent Therapy
Scent Therapy is a simple but amazing and effective therapy which may be of help to anyone who has neurological challenges. .
Humans can distinguish up to 10,000 frequencies of smells with their noses. Olfactory disorders (problems with smelling) are regularly found in cases of depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, autism and TBI’s (traumatic brain injuries). These cases range from hyper-sensitivity to smells (very sensitive to smells) or hypo-sensitivity to smells (hardly smell anything), and some people lose their sense of smell all together (along with their sense of taste).
The purpose of scent therapy is to stimulate the area of the brain which processes smells, which is part of the limbic system in the brain. This area of the brain also deals with functions such as self-calming and memory.
Smell is one of the first senses that a baby gets. It is important because the baby’s other senses (sight, hearing, etc) are still developing, so the baby needs to use its sense of smell to learn when it is safe: e.g. when it can smell its mother.
Your sense of smell is housed in your limbic system, and a fully operating sense of smell is absolutely crucial to the proper functioning of the limbic system. The limbic system comprises 40% of your brain and is made up from a number of regions of the brain. It has a number of functions associated with it. If you have any problems with these functions, then you may well have an issue in your limbic area, and a solution may be to repair your neurological ability to sense smells, via Scent Therapy.
The structures of the limbic system are related to some of humans’ most primitive functions, especially those relating to survival, such as eating, motivation, feeling comforted, ability to be social, procreation, and more.
Scent therapy typically uses a range of scents, often using particular scents for particular purposes, such as to stimulate or to calm. Recent research has also found that the scent of rosemary can increase levels of acetylcholine – essential for learning and the process of neuroplasticity.
Sometimes the scents are smelled with both nostrils, and sometimes with just one nostril (a trained therapist is able to determine whether there is any weakness in ability to smell in one or both nostrils via a simple test).
Scents may be used as a one-off therapy, or, commonly, they are used on a frequent basis throughout the day for a number of weeks.
Sometimes pictures may be shown along with each of the smells, and this can help to enhance associated memories – an important role of scents.
Scent Therapy is frequently used by professionals qualified in Functional Neurology. Organisations such as the Family Hope Center and Institutes for Achievement of Human Potential also use this therapy. Several academic institutions, including Newcastle are studying phyto-aromatics and the role of smell on brain function and performance.
Our sense of taste provides yet another route into the brain, and thus can be used as a neuroplasticity therapy.
This therapy is used by professionals qualified in Functional Neurology
Sensory Integration Therapy
This therapy is developed from the work of Occupational Therapist, Jean Ayres, who reasoned that the brain takes in, organises and integrates information from all the sensory sources, and this enables us to respond appropriately to any given situation. In this therapy, sensory processing is linked to learning, behaviour, emotional regulation, and participating in daily life.
Sensory Integration exercises can involve movement, touch, sound, sight and balancing activities. It is generally practised by Occupational Therapists.