January 2, 2004
A room filled with soft colored lights, gentle music, pleasing aromas, and plush pillows doesn’t sound like the latest in high-tech medicine. But a growing number of health professionals, caregivers, and people with Alzheimer’s disease have come to find that this fun and peaceful approach to stimulating the senses can ease the agitation, wandering, and other disturbing symptoms that so commonly afflict those with serious dementia.
The treatment, called Snoezelen (pronounced “SNOO-ze-len”) therapy, comes from Europe, where the concept originated. It is named to evoke the sense of dozing and lazy relaxation that characterizes a visit to the rooms. A growing number of facilities worldwide are now offering the treatment.
More than 500 Snoezelen rooms have opened up in the U.S. The peaceful chambers, with glowing bubble tubes and the sights and sounds of a rain forest, complete with waterfalls, a beach scene, with simulated sunrise, or a star-filled trip to outer space, are used to provide relief for everything from dementia to head injuries.
Recipients range from children with nervous system disabilities to seniors in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. Sunrise Senior Living, which owns a chain of senior living centers, is among a growing group of companies that offer the treatment.
Relief for ‘Sundowners’
Staff and families report that a visit to the rooms, for an hour or so a few times a week or as needed, can in some cases provide dramatic relief. The treatment may be particularly useful to ease ‘sundowning,’ a common occurrence among Alzheimer’s victims who reside long-term-care facilities. Such patients are prone to suffer from aggressiveness late in the day, as the sun goes down, when they may think it is time to “go home.” A strategically timed visit to a Snoezelen room during those hours can dramatically ease agitation and upset among such residents.
Only a handful of trials have looked at whether the therapy provides true benefits for people suffering from Alzheimer’s. Although the results were inconclusive, the trend was positive. After a Snoezelen session, people with dementia were less anxious, apathetic and restless. They also had fewer outbursts and created fewer disturbances. Additional studies are in progress.
Despite a lack of scientific proof, many experts remain convinced that the rooms are a useful addition to any facility. Staff and residents alike both seem to enjoy the relaxing and peaceful settings. Furthermore, numerous reports indicate that paying attention to the way a nursing home or other long-term-facility is designed can make a big difference in the quality of life for someone with dementia.
Caregivers, too, report that they can often dramatically ease the burden of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s at home by making simple changes to surroundings.
Placing a spouse, parent or other loved one in a nursing home or assisted-living facility is never an easy choice. Many factors come into play when providing appropriate care, including selecting the right medications and providing appropriate behavioral therapy and counseling. Taking design issues into consideration — including the availability of a Snoezelen room — may be an important factor when choosing an appropriate long-term care facility as well.
By www.ALZinfo.org. The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Samuel E. Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board, Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.