Will Memory Care Be Too Stressful for My Parent with Dementia?

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If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, you might start to notice them behaving in ways that surprise you.

Maybe your mom once loved listening to James Brown, but now anytime loud or energetic music comes one, she seems more agitated than inspired. Or perhaps your dad was always up for a dinner party, but now when 6 p.m. rolls around, he becomes impatient, even unruly.

So how, you might be asking yourself, how will they fare in a memory care community, where there are a lot of stimulating things going on?

Snoezelen for Seniors

A decade ago, your parent might have been prescribed drugs or restrained to manage the outbreaks. These days, memory care communities are building Snoezelen rooms.

Formed by the Dutch words “sniff” and doze,” Snoezelen (pronounced “snuzelen”) is multisensory environment designed to “help reduce agitation and anxiety as well as engage and delight the user, stimulate reactions, and encourage communication.”

A Snoezelen room might have:

  • A projector that displays changing shapes of color and gentle patterns
  • A sensory corner with bubble tubes, fiber optics, and switches
  • A musical water bed that produces vibrations of rhythm, tone, and beat
  • A shimmering curtain that produces gentle light
  • A padded wall panel for safe and independent exploration

Many types of people can benefit from Snoezelen rooms. For example, people with learning disabilities benefit from a space where a variety of interventions can be tailored to meet a need quickly and easily. People struggling with mental health issues might also benefit from a safe space where they can completely relax and be receptive to therapeutic interventions.

Carrie Wilson, memory care director of Reflections at Ivy at Ellington, says Snoezelen rooms are perfect for people with dementia, too.

“It’s a nonpharmacological approach to help them relax and feel not agitated, to feel safe and secure, and to feel relaxed,” Wilson says. “If someone is agitated or anxious or if they’re prone to sundowning, we can offer them nice, peaceful quiet time to avoid that and then carry on with a relaxed evening. It’s a mind and soulful approach to soothe what might be bothering a resident without having to do it with medication.”

The Snoezelen Room at Ivy at Ellington

Snoezelen has been providing therapists and caregivers with a multisensory toolkit for more than 30 years, and no two Snoezelen rooms look the same. At the Ivy at Ellington, the Snoezelen room doubles as the theater.

There is a big-screen TV on the wall and two rows of comfy, cushy leather chairs. Warm, soft string lights hang from the ceiling, and soothing sounds—ocean sounds, forest sounds, or bird sounds, depending on the resident—fill the room. There’s a lava lamp, an aquarium and a jellyfish tank, a couple of salt rock lamps, healing energy crystals, stones with different textures and soft fabrics to touch, and a diffuser that disperses calming scents such as lavender in the room.

“It’s an area that can be quiet and where you can really create the mood and the ambiance that you want to help somebody relax,” Wilson says. “You do it technically through stimuli but almost it’s anti-stimuli.”

This type of sensory stimulation is intended to bring enjoyment to residents with dementia, reduce their anxiety and depression, and increase their social interaction.

For instance, there is one resident at Ivy at Ellington who tends to get irritated quickly by loud sounds or upbeat sounds, but some of the other residents really love 1950s dance music, Wilson says.

“While the music is on, some of my residents are up dancing, but for her to sit with it — it’s a little too much,” she says. “So we walk down the hall and into the Snoezelen room. She loves the aquarium, the soft blue glow, the slow movement of the jellyfishes, and the quiet ocean sounds. To be able to sit there in that quiet space and watch something soothing and listen to calm sounds really brings her back down to a relaxed state.

“Now we know going forward, for her, the plan is to do a couple minutes of dancing then go to the Snoezelen room,” Wilson says.

If you ever reach a point where you feel like you can’t fully meet the needs of your loved one struggling with memory impairment at home, Wilson and her memory care team at the Reflections at the Ivy at Ellington will keep your loved one engaged and active in a safe, homelike environment.

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