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Sensory Training: Definition, Uses & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 1:23 Balance
  • 3:44 Strength
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson explores some of the basic ideas of sensory training in older people by using the most common types of therapy in examples, including balance and strength.

Sensory Training and Perception: Definitions

As we age, our bodies begin to shift in numerous ways. I'm not talking about graying hair or wrinkly skin, although that happens too. What I am focusing on is a shift in the sensing organs and a change in the brain with how it interprets the sensory information. This is particularly true if there has been some sort of shock to the system like a fall, surgery or other damage to the sensory organs or brain.

Sensory training is a group of techniques designed to improve the functioning of different sensory systems and perception. Sensation and perception are split into two different things, so we have to look at each one. Sensation is the basic signal received from your sensory organs. So, this is your eye detecting light, your skin detecting cold, etc. But it doesn't tell you what the light is, or if it is too cold. That is the domain of perception, which is the interpretation and categorization of sensation. This is where the light hitting your eye is interpreted as a donut, and the cold you are feeling on your skin is too cold to be comfortable.

Sensory training attempts to reorient and fix the sensation and perception that are off. Let's take a look at the most common ways sensory training is used.

Balance

The old trope is that old people have fake hips. The reason this is unfortunately not as uncommon as it should be is because of the vestibular organ, or the inner ear structure that helps form the sensation of balance. Most people are familiar with the five senses, but the sense of balance is actually one too (you can thank Aristotle for screwing that up). The vestibular organs are a series of fluid-filled organs that are sensitive to pressure changes as it moves. Sort of like a gyroscope; no matter which way it moves, it always orients to 'down.'

As we get older, the organ loses some of its sensitivity. This means that a person can be leaning without feeling it. Compounding this is the reduced reflexes, weakened muscles and thinning bones. All of these factors combine to make damage to the hip or leg extremely easy when an older person falls over.

Sensory training reorients the person and gets them in touch with their sense of balance. Specifically, the therapist would want to target areas most likely to have issues with balance, such as standing up, walking up and down stairs, and normal walking (which are actually really weird when you watch in slow motion, with all these rolling joints and twisting). These movements are often the most likely times a person will lose their balance and fall.

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