Sensory Room brings smiles to faces of dementia sufferers

13 November 2016

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Takanini resident Ngaere has had great results using the Sensory Room

Dementia is on the rise and there’s still no cure in sight. Watching your partner or parent slowly slip away from you can be hard to bear. Sometimes family members find it hard to visit, or feel that there is no point, as they will be forgotten the minute they leave. But people with dementia can take pleasure in the here and now – enjoying moments as they happen. Dementia care has changed dramatically over the years and delivering quality care includes finding ways to engage, stimulate and connect with each person on their own terms.

 

Video: Relatives of Takanini residents talk about their experiences with the Sensory Room


Pippa is a school teacher and had her mum, Ngaere, staying with her for several years before putting her into care. “Mum was on her own in Hawkes Bay and had always been very active. I live in Auckland and when I’d go visit her, I’d notice how forgetful she’d become. She’d tell me that everyone forgets things but I knew it was more than that.” Pippa moved her mum up to Auckland to live with her, using caregivers to help out at home while she was at work. “They couldn’t be with her 24/7 and mum became less and less able to do things. I’d come home from work and her lunch would still be sitting on the bench. She’d forget to eat.” Pippa knew it was time to look for full time care for her mum.


Despite her independent nature, Ngaere settled easily into the dementia wing at Oceania’s Takanini Rest Home. “They have a really good activities programme”, said Pippa. “There’s always something going on every day and mum took up all kinds of activities. She was really happy but as her dementia progressed you couldn’t really engage her in any conversation. The Sensory Room made a huge difference though.”


The Sensory Room combines light, gentle movement, music and tactile objects to stimulate or calm residents with dementia. As their dementia advances, some people withdraw from everyday life while others become more easily agitated. Withdrawal can come in the form of sleeping much of the day, sitting in an unresponsive state, not eating or engaging in activities. Family members may find that conversations, if any, are disjointed and difficult to follow.


“Normally I’d have to read between the lines to figure out what mum was trying to say”, said Pippa. “If I said something, she’d respond in a way that was completely unrelated.” Pippa noticed that her mum was “definitely very different” when she spoke to her in the Sensory Room. “I found the optimum time was after 30 to 40 minutes. I could ask mum something and she would make relevant comments back. It made me feel much better – like I was getting the real mum back for awhile.”


“I noticed similar results with one of the other residents with dementia. After spending time in the Sensory Room, she responded to my greeting and said that she was very well. I was totally taken aback. I’d never had a response from this woman in the past even though I’d been saying hello to her for about a year.”

 

Some residents spend time in the Sensory Room when they become agitated. “It has a calming affect on some people, while it seems to wake others up”, said Takanini manager, Yvonne Kleyn. “We see results varying from reduced need for anti-anxiety medication through to residents taking more interest in food and feeding themselves. It’s all anecdotal at this stage but the results we’re seeing are encouraging. Auckland University has expressed interest in doing some research on the effects of the Sensory Room.”


“The staff are really good at getting to know the residents’ individual personalities”, said Pippa, “finding out what their interests are and what each person responds to. Mum enjoyed music and art and animals, but she didn’t respond to them like she did in the Sensory Room. I enjoyed spending time with mum there. It gave us some really nice moments.”

 

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