A CARE HOME in South Africa has launched one of the first ‘Memory Rooms’ in the country, specifically created for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Sonja Smith, Memory Room Project Leader at Willow Haven says, “I go to Residential Care units all the time, as I am also a Funeral Director. I noticed patients were sitting passively, not doing anything and not being stimulated in any way.
“For me, it was as if they were just sitting and waiting to die. The care assistants and nursing staff on the Alzheimer’s wards would say ‘Oh don’t worry, they don’t understand why you’re here or what you’re doing anyway’.
“That really bugged me. I knew I had to do something. I had no background in how to help stimulate Alzheimer’s or dementia patients, but I knew they could be doing more than just sitting there watching the world go by.”
Whilst researching online, Sonja came across the phrase ‘Snoezelen’, which originated in Holland in the early 1980s and is coined from two Dutch terms – ‘Snuffelen’ to seek out or explore, and ‘Doezelen’, which means to relax. The philosophy of Snoezelen is to assert a ‘self-directed’ approach, in which the patient is free to explore the area and react and respond to a sensory world in their own way, liberated from control, routine and medical diagnosis.
Sonja’s Memory Room sits in a space in the middle of the Care Home, surrounded by the patients’ rooms. “Something the community and I have also made is an ‘Activity Apron’ for the patients,” adds Sonja.
“We have placed these aprons inside the Memory Room, just laying them out on chairs for patients to pick up and put on. People with dementia often fidget with their clothes and themselves.
“The apron has buttons, shoelaces, ribbons, and soft toys – anything you can think of, attached to it. This provides a really stimulating experience for the person.
“One lady refused to take her apron off, one time. It had a little bell attached to it and she was wandering around the care home ringing it, driving everybody crazy! She loved it. It was stimulating her all the time she was doing that.”
As well as the aprons, the Memory Room itself is comprised of attractive colours, comfy chairs, twinkling lights, old 30s and 40s memorabilia and other stimulating features.
Denise, who is in her 90s and has dementia, is a resident at Willow Haven, and is a huge fan of the Memory Room.
She says, “To me, this place has been made with a lot of love. It has been made with patience and remembrance – you remember what you love, don’t you?
“I look at the Memory Room from my own room. It makes me feel like I’m a little girl again in my old home. The lights in there make me feel about six years old – when my mother would open the lounge door at Christmas time and say ‘it’s ready!’
“I’m talking about the tree, of course. I think a Christmas tree would go down very well with the residents, here.”
Denise is not the only one to appreciate what the Memory Room has to offer.
“There’s a gentleman who, before the Memory Room was created, didn’t speak a word. Unfortunately he’s passed away now, but he used to come in here and sit and watch the fish floating past on the TV,” adds Sonja.
“It’s very soothing. He’d speak while he was in the Memory Room. I truly believe it was because watching those fish was triggering something inside his brain.
“If this is working and inspires others to do the same around the world, then we’ve truly achieved something special.”
Words by Rachael Heslehurst
You can follow Rachael on Twitter @rheslehurst