Multisensory rooms do not effectively provide meaningful cognitive stimulation for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Multisensory experiences do.
I have been asked to provide recommendations and input for the design of multisensory (Snoezlen) rooms several times in recent months. The topic gets me fired up… I love providing suggestions for functional equipment and sensory objects that really have the potential to engage people in the environment. And the stuff is cool- fiberoptic lighting, water features, projectors and aromatherapy machines.
But the more I’ve done this, the more I’ve realized that many facilities are using these objects as passive aesthetics rather than therapeutic interventions. Objects alone cannot engage a cognitively impaired person in a meaningful experience.
You need a human to deliver the hype.
And what’s more, the interface of humans with the environment isn’t so much about the human touching and smelling and seeing the world, but about how the human’s body combines all of that sensory input and MOVES through it. That is how a person comes to perceive themselves in the context of the environment.
I am a big believer in accessing the sensory-motor cortex in patients with Alzheimer’s in order to maximize their ability to explore the world. The visual cortex stays largely intact throughout the early and middle stages of Alzheimer’s, but without important cognitive assets like attention and language, a purely visual experience does little to engage the person into the environment. It doesn’t provide enough input or meaning.
My wish list for multisensory rooms now includes items you’d see at a gymnastics facility: balance beam, parallel bars, sponge pit, trampoline, swing… a multisensory gym.
Of course, I’m imagining a modified gym that is accessible and safe. But the reality is my imaginary gym is neither accessible or safe without the help of humans. And in this current healthcare system, that is where the efficacy of my vision falls flat.
Whenever I have decided to share my vision with assisted living facilities, adult day care centers, and group homes, I see the same deer in the headlight expression on the face of each facility director. They are paralyzed by the same logistical fears- liability, staffing shortages, lack of training, costs.
The current healthcare delivery model and senior living world are not ready for sensory integrative approaches on a one-on-one level. I think we should start reframing “memory care” as “sensory-motor care” and stop trying to fix the broken hippocampus with memory bandaids.