New feature will help dementia patients

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By John Barnhart

    Oakwood Health and Rehab Center’s new sensory room is the result of 18 months of work. The reason it took so long is that it’s on the cutting edge of efforts to improve the quality of life for dementia patients.


    According to Tracy Chisholm, Oakwood’s nursing director, the idea of multi-sensory stimulus has been used successfully in Europe for some time. The idea is new to the U. S. It’s so new that Chisholm had trouble finding suppliers to provide equipment to set up Okwood’s room.
    Back in October, 2015,  Chisholm went to a national conference in Texas to look for sensory room suppliers. There were all sorts of exhibitors there, but not one of them had anything to equip a sensory room.
    According to  Chisholm, a sensory room uses a multi-sensory approach — sight, sound smell and touch—to stimulate the brain. It is primarily aimed at helping people with forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. However, it positively impacts almost everybody who walks into it.
    Bedford Memorial staff, including Denise Edwards, the hospital’s volunteer services coordinator, likes it. The hospital auxiliary, which Edwards heads up, paid for the room.
     The   darkened   room  features soft, padded places to sit, colored bubbles and colored fiber optics that patients can handle. They can braid them, group them or separate them and count them.  A disco ball can spread moving dots of colored light about the room. Colors in everything. There is a projector that projects scenes of fish or fireworks on the wall. There are also heated, weighted blankets with zippers patients can manipulate.  Chisholm said the room calms agitated people. The multi-sensory stimulus helps the brain relax.
    On the other hand, people who are not agitated often become excited. Chisholm said patients become more verbal and have increased memory.
    The room’s design offers a lot of flexility so that staff can change what it offers around, depending on what is working with a particular patient.
    “We can line the floors with padded panels,” Chisholm said.
    She said they can do as much stimulus or as little stimulus as needed.
    “Whatever that particular patient responds to is what we concentrate on,” Chisholm said.
    There is more stimulus to come. Chisholm said they will soon have a lift chair that has heat and massage.
    According to Chisholm, studies show multi-sensory stimulus decreases the discomfort dementia patients experience and increases their engagement with the world.  It also decreases the need for medication.
    Chisholm said multi-sensory stimulus works, but nobody yet knows exactly why it works. She said research on the “why does it work” aspect is continuing.