(Photo credit: snoezelen.info)

Dementia, an over-arching term for memory loss and other cognitive issues that interfere with daily life, is a growing problem in the United States. From 2000 to 2017, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease (the most prevalent form of dementia) have increased by 145 percent, according to statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in this country, and 1 in 3 seniors has some form of dementia when they die.

While these are dire statistics about this condition with no cure, there is some more positive news. Innovative new therapies that address several of the common symptoms of dementia (such as anxiety, irritability, agitation, and aggression) are being developed and studied. One of these therapeutic methods being explored is called Snoezelen therapy.

>> Related: When Memory Issues Are Cause for Concern

Unique dementia therapies

Snoezelen (pronounced “SNU-ze-len”) is a Dutch term that blends the words “snuffelen” (to seek and explore) and “doezelen” (to relax). Snoezelen rooms provide high levels of stimuli such as optical displays combined with lighting effects, aromatherapy, bright colors, and a variety of textures and sounds to stimulate the senses.

This innovative therapy was originally conceptualized in in the 1970s in The Netherlands for verbal and non-verbal people with cognitive and developmental disabilities. The feedback from those patients was consistently positive, so researchers began to explore the use of Snoezelen therapy for other conditions, including dementia.

There are limited studies on the effectiveness of Snoezelen therapy, but anecdotal evidence suggests these safe, specialized rooms may deliver a variety of benefits for dementia patients. One small 2018 study in Spain found an immediate, positive effect of both mood and behavior in dementia patients who spent time in a Snoezelen room. They also had an increase in blood-oxygen saturation and a decreased heartrate, both signs of relaxation.

These specialized therapeutic rooms have been added to long-term care and memory care communities around the world to benefit their dementia patients.

>> Related: The Benefits of Customized Care in Special Care Units

Benefits to quality of life

More research is needed, but this non-pharmacological therapy has shown positive results for many people with dementia with none of the harmful side effects that can come with taking medication. Here are some examples of the benefits that have been observed:

  • The average person touches around 300 different surfaces every half hour. Many dementia patients are sensory-deprived, however, touching only three different surfaces in 30 minutes. The Snoezelen room’s variety of stimuli automatically increases the patient’s alertness and comprehension of their environment.
  • For both verbal and non-verbal dementia patients, Snoezelen therapy can increase communication. During and after a session, the shared sensory experience provides a bond between patient and caregiver.
  • You may have heard of “sundowning,” the common phenomenon of dementia patients’ confusion and agitation symptoms worsening late in the afternoon or evening. The gentle simulation provided by a Snoezelen room can ease these aggressive behaviors, reduce anxiety, and boost mood.

You can learn more about Snoezelen rooms and therapies here.

>> Related: Game On: Can Brain Games Improve Your Memory?

Other therapeutic alternatives for dementia patients

I’ve shared information previously about some other innovative therapies that are being used by some long-term care and memory care communities to improve quality of life for people who have dementia or other memory-related issues.

For example, more and more special care units for memory-related issues offer art or music therapy programs, animal therapy, or meditation for their dementia patients. Other innovative memory care units are using scent-based reminiscence therapy for residents with dementia or other memory issues to try to help trigger memories.

Yes, more research is needed, but these outside-the-box alternative therapies, including Snoezelen rooms, offer a low-risk, potentially high-reward option for easing some of the challenging symptoms that can accompany memory-related conditions.

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