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Kingston University expert designs new sensory room for local care home residents living with dementia

Posted Friday 26 July 2019

Kingston University expert designs new sensory room for local care home residents living with dementia The sensory room at Coombe Hill Manor care home is specifically designed for people living with dementia.

Residents of the dementia suite at a Kingston care home have had their lives enhanced by a new sensory room created by a leading design researcher from Kingston University. The facility at Coombe Hill Manor care home, part of the Signature Group, was co-designed by Dr Anke Jakob in collaboration with staff and families of residents. It uses multi-sensory, immersive technology to create a space that is specifically tuned to the needs of people living with dementia.

"I was approached by the care home team who were keen to transform an under-used lounge into a space where residents living with dementia could relax and enjoy activities they can manage," Dr Jakob explained. "The opportunities we've incorporated in to the design are particularly suited for people in later stages of dementia, when activities requiring more cognitive abilities become challenging. Although cognition is declining, a person with dementia still can relate to emotional and sensory memories."

The technology in the room includes colour-changing fibre optic lights and a high-specification projector. This is used to create tranquil scenes, stimulate positive memories by taking residents back to past places, stage music performances and to connect residents with family members via Skype. The projector is Bluetooth-enabled, allowing family visitors to display photos and videos using their own devices to help recreate memories and foster relationships.

Dr Jakob is a leading expert in designing sensory environments. Her research focuses on how textiles, light and colour can be used to benefit people with cognitive limitations. In collaboration with occupational therapist Dr Lesley Collier from Brunel University, she has developed a guide for carers and care homes titled How to make a sensory room for people living with dementia. The room at Coombe Hill Manor puts into practice many of the guide's recommendations.

Alongside the technological interventions, there are also plenty of soft textiles and tactile materials, natural items such as dry twigs and a fireplace that is lit to look like a real fire. Incorporating these features was important for familiarity and comfort, providing a warm and intimate atmosphere and making the space informal, homely and conducive to relaxation, Dr Jakob explained.

Deborah Harding of the home's activity team said Coombe Hill Manor's ethos focuses on ensuring residents living with dementia are catered for through personalised interaction and care. "At Coombe Hill Manor, we believe in creating profound experiences to help deliver positive outcomes for our residents. We spent a lot of time researching and developing the sensory room with Dr Jakob and her team, as well the families of our residents', to ensure it would deliver the right results. I believe it will have an extremely positive impact on our residents' wellbeing."

Dr Jakob will be working with care home residents and staff over the coming months, along with her research collaborator Dr Collier, to gather their feedback on the space. This will inform future design work, with Dr Jakob hoping to roll out the design project in some of the other homes also owned by Signature Care Group.

"This new facility will make a real difference for the residents of the dementia suite at Coombe Hill Manor.  The room offers a safe destination and retreat from a busy environment - a space the residents can inhabit, together with visiting relatives, and which can be personalised according to their needs," Dr Jakob said. "This will help them feel comfortable in their surroundings, enjoying meaningful experiences and stimulating positive feelings, subsequently alleviating boredom, frustration and depression."

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