Research spearheaded by a design expert from Kingston University is shedding new light on the positive impact improved multi-sensory environments can have in dementia care.
Dementia is seriously disabling for those who have it, and is often devastating for their caregivers and families. With an increasing number of people being affected by dementia, almost everyone knows someone who has dementia, or someone whose life has been touched by it. There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK. With numbers predicted to rise to over 1 million by 2025, and soar to 2 million by 2051; it's no surprise that the condition has been recognised by the World Health Organisation as a global health challenge.
People with dementia often develop behavioural and psychological symptoms including restlessness, aggression, delusions, hallucinations, apathy and sleep disturbances. In many cases these symptoms are born out of frustration from an inability to communicate or interact with the world. Although medications used to control these problems, such as antipsychotic drugs and sedatives, achieve short-term results, they frequently cause side effects, and do not address the underlying causes of dementia symptoms. What a multi-sensory room offers is a non-pharmaceutical method to reduce and manage behavioural symptoms.
Multi-sensory rooms were first used in the 1970s as therapeutic interventions for young people with learning disabilities, and provide gentle stimulation of sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, and movement in a controlled way. However, while studies over the past 10 years have outlined the positive benefits of these rooms for people with dementia, many multi-sensory rooms in care homes are left unused.
Research conducted by Dr Anke Jakob and Kingston University's Centre for Research through Design, into the concept of multi-sensory rooms in dementia care, discovered that in many cases the unused rooms were following design principals more suited to children than to adults, and were not tailored to the patient's needs. Space for children should look different to space for adults, and if the contrast between the care home and the multi-sensory room is too different, the room will not enhance feelings of comfort and well-being, but instead can cause anxiety. However, there was a lack of industry guidelines on how this could be best achieved.
To 'bridge the gap', Dr Jakob joined forces with Dr Lesley Collier, from the University of Southampton, to produce a guide for care homes, highlighting the importance of sensory areas specifically created to meet the needs of people living with dementia.
The guide contains advice about appropriate furniture, and the different materials and tools that can be used to stimulate senses; such as scents like lavender to relax and calm, sounds from the great outdoors, and foods with specific flavours. These can all help to improve mood, evoke memories and engage people living with dementia.
The guide How to make a Sensory Room for people living with dementia is freely available to the public, and is already influencing how multi-sensory rooms are designed and used in multiple care homes around the UK.