Cozy Corner Special Edition

Sensory Stimulation & Dementia

As an advocate for seniors with Dementia and a Director for the Lark Angels Foundation I speak often of Multi-Sensory Stimulation, and we are working hard to develop the first Multi-Sensory room here in Surrey. This article will help you understand the importance of a Multi-Sensory room.
Dementia, as we know, is a progressive disorder affecting the brain and presents problems with thinking, mood, behaviour, and the ability to take part in everyday leisure activities. For the person with Dementia the world can be a very fragmented and confusing place. If there is an absence or lack of suitable stimuli that focuses on an elder’s remaining skills, we often see this leading to increased isolation, frustration, confusion, sensory deprivation and unhappiness as well as a continual decline in ability to maintain everyday skills. The link between sensory deprivation and decline in mental health has been frequently documented.

The Rover is an example of a sensory tool that can be brought beside a person’s bed for them to enjoy the
experience of sensory stimulation.

Giving Elders a means to express themselves, when they can no longer do so with words, can help them relax, feel safe, improve their mood, self-esteem and, in turn, their well-being.  Sensory Stimulation helps Elders with Dementia connect.  It brings them enjoyment, reduces anxiety and depression while increasing their social interaction.  Although activities are aimed for the Elder

it is a wonderful means for family, therapist and staff to share those experiences – bringing joy to all involved.  Those shared experiences and memories can help bring Elders back to a time that they remember fondly, which can help them feel meaningful again.

Everyone needs sensory stimulation in order to comprehend the world around them. The only way we can get information into our brains is through our senses; sight, sound, touch, taste, smell and movement. Too much stimulation is not good yet if we have too little, we lose interest in our surroundings and potentially lose the ability to do things

It is recognised that sensory deprivation and lack of appropriate activity has a devastating impact on our wellbeing and health. Older people in particular who are limited in their physical and cognitive abilities, need to be offered and helped to engage in activity that provides multi-sensory stimulation as they may not be able to access this kind of stimulation on their own.  The right level of sensory stimulation helps to relieve stress and boredom; to engage in activity also involves an act of communication that enhances the feeling of comfort and wellbeing.

Most of the equipment I work with is through Associate Health Systems Inc. a local based company and they can assist you with a design of your own Multi-Sensory Environment (MSE) – providing a safe, relaxed and comfortable space where you can engage a person suffering with Dementia and other brain disorders.

Your Sensory Room is a space for enjoying a variety of sensory experiences and where gentle stimulation of the senses can be provided in a controlled way. Stimulation can be increased or decreased to match the interests and therapeutic needs of the user. Such spaces, and how they are equipped, offer a range of activities that can either be sensory stimulating or calming in their effects.

Multi-Sensory Environments improve the development of thought, intelligence and social skills. It offers people with cognitive impairments and other challenging conditions the opportunity to enjoy and control a variety of sensory experiences.   These populations rarely, if ever, experience the world as the majority of us do. Limitations of movement, vision, hearing, cognitive ability, constrained space, behavioral difficulties, perception issues, pain, and other problems create obstacles to their enjoyment of life. Multi-Sensory Environments provide opportunities for bridging these barriers.  MSE generates a relaxing and calming effect, but also activates different perception areas aimed at basal stimulation for those who are neurologically impaired.  Time spent in a MSE has been shown to increase concentration, focus attention, improve alertness, awaken memories, and to improve mobilization, creativity, social relations and communications, and general awareness of the surrounding world. The varied optical, acoustic, olfactory and tactile in Multi-Sensory Environments have not only provided alternative and powerful forms of sensory stimulation for individuals previously isolated in their perceptual disabilities; they have also managed to break into cultures within health and education, providing new ways of encouraging learning, motor development, cognitive development, language and social interaction skill.

The MSE space one wishes to create should help your residents feel comfortable, safe and secure. It should be an intimate, contained and quiet space with as few disturbance or distraction as possible.   Providing a calm, warm and cozy atmosphere is vital.  Using low-level sensory stimulation will activate the parasympathetic nervous system: inducing a state of calm.  This will help a person to relax and will reduce stress and anxiety and subsequently enable them to better focus on activities offered.

In one’s preparation of therapy think about ways you can incorporate as many senses as possible: hearing, smell, touch, taste, sight, vibration and touch.  Stimulating the vestibular (moving in space, orientation and balance) and kinaesthetic sense (position and movement of arms and legs) is often a forgotten activity and so very valuable.   A good solution here is to use equipment, items and material that are multi-sensory in design. For example, music instruments or scented cushions made from various materials provide a wider opportunity to explore visual, tactile, audio and olfactory (smell) stimulation and encourage movement.

Meaningful multi-sensory and reminiscent experiences can be created by combining various stimuli addressing different senses under a theme. For example, a walk on the coast: the sound of waves and seagulls, a breeze, a video showing the sea and the beach, sand and some shells to touch. This can create a virtual environment bringing the experience of the seaside indoors.

My favorite sensory is the puppy.

He has a motion sensor built in so when a person enters the room, the puppy barks. Not everyone can have a real dog in the home. There are cats, birds, as well. I hope this has offered you a sense of “The World of Sensory Stimulation” and why it is so important. No longer should a person with Dementia be sitting alone staring into space with little or no stimulation. A whole new world awaits them with the new understanding of Sensory Stim and how it works.

Janet Isherwood, Cozy Corner
Troy Hutchinson, Associated Health Systems Inc.

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