ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
by Cynthia Martens
The Long Term Care Unit at Hillsboro Community Medical Center is a hubbub of activity-overhead speakers squawk, ringers in rooms buzz, agitated patients call out and door alarms screech.
When these noises disturb elderly patients on the unit, there is a quiet place they can go to get away and calm down. It’s called a Snoezelen room, and it’s a converted patient room situated close to the nurses’ station on the first floor.
“It’s a nice little plus to have somewhere I can take somebody with dementia or Alzheimer’s for a while,” said Gayla Ratzlaff, activities and social-services director at the facility.
“Especially if a patient is agitated and you have a lot of activity going on, all it does is heighten agitation.”
But the room can also be used for sensory stimulation with patients who are sleeping too much or are sensory deprived, for occupational stress relief and for patients suffering from chronic pain.
Although the long-term care facility had a smaller version of the Snoezelen room in another part of the building about a year ago, the equipment was moved to the new location and ready for patient use in May.
Lara Schill, director of nursing, became interested in establishing a Snoezelen room about two years ago, Ratzlaff said. The concept was introduced at a nursing conference, and the staff also had an opportunity to visit a Snoezelen room at Friendly Acres Retirement Community in Newton.
The original idea for a quiet room was born in Holland in the late 1970s to help developmentally disabled children with learning disorders.
In initial experiments with the concept of establishing a sensory environment, positive verbal and nonverbal responses were elicited from learning-disabled children when they were introduced to fans blowing shards of paper, tactile objects, scent bottles and music, according to Snoezelen literature.
The term Snoezelen is a contraction of the Dutch verbs “snuffelen” (to seek out or explore) and “doezelen” (to relax). The name describes its dual purpose of sensory stimulation and therapeutic relaxation.
The Snoezelen concept has grown from its original intent to help children with learning disabilities and is now being used in hospital burn units, centers for children with epilepsy and care homes like the Long Term Care Unit in Hillsboro.
Because of the success of the original room and the need to expand it, Ratzlaff said she wrote a proposal to move to the new location and add more equipment.
“It was presented to the hospital board, the board liked the idea, and so then they gave us an extra $500 to put more things in it,” Ratzlaff said.
Based on an ocean theme, HCMC’s Snoezelen room is painted dark blue.
The rhythm of the ebb and flow of ocean waves is depicted on the room’s walls. And the interior also includes pictures of fish and a lighthouse, a hands-on dry aquarium, a compact-disc player, a fiber-optic-spray lamp, bubble lamps, a projector and an aroma-therapy pot.
“When you come in, there is no real lighting in the room,” Ratzlaff said.
“It’s black light, and part of that is to provide a calm atmosphere where you don’t have bright lights or loud noises-it’s very calming.”
The room is so dark that Ratzlaff said the staff has to open the door and turn on some of the equipment before patients are brought inside.
Three recliners are available in the quiet room or patients can experience the environment from the security of their wheelchairs.
A staff member can bring in one resident or a group of up to four patients at a time, Ratzlaff said. And families are welcome to sit in the room with the residents as well.
Once inside, a staff member helps the patient explore the room-touching the fiber-optic strands, listening to ocean-themed music on the compact-disc player, watching images projected on the ceiling or manipulating a shifting-sand picture.
“And we use two scents in there,” Ratzlaff said. “In the literature, they mentioned the smells most calming were peppermint and lavender, so those are the two smells we use.”
Sessions typically last about 30 to 45 minutes.
One of the additional benefits of the room is that it provides a bridge between residents and the nursing staff, Ratzlaff said.
“It helps build relationships between staff and residents-that one-on-one contact, which is what that person needs at the time, rather than using medication to calm them.”
And staff is welcome to use the room, Ratzlaff said.
“It can be a stress reliever for staff, but they don’t use it as much,” she said.
“Lots of times when we take residents in there, some of the staff will also come in and sit and relax. People could take a break in there if they want to, but staff hasn’t used it because of their schedules.”
Additional uses of the room are to relieve the symptoms of patients who have head injuries, mental-health problems or chronic pain.
But the majority of patients currently using the Snoezelen room are the dementia and Alzheimer’s residents, Ratzlaff said.
“It’s kind of crazy,” she said. “It can do two things, which are kind of the opposite.”
The room can either provide additional stimuli for a resident who’s sleeping more or sensory deprived, or it has a calming effect on people who are agitated.
Ratzlaff cited two examples of this phenomenon.
Recently, a resident was disturbed and calling out, so a staff member brought her to the Snoezelen room. The room not only calmed her, but she fell asleep amid the music and the bubble lamps.
“Now I have another person who was really sleepy,” Ratzlaff said.
“We took him in there, and we were talking to him. He opened his eyes, and he was awake. It was definitely a form of stimulus and kind of woke him up.”
Ratzlaff said between the two therapies-sensory stimulation and therapeutic relaxation-the majority of residents are brought into the room to calm down and relax.
The Snoezelen room is popular with the residents, Ratzlaff said.
“Most of them think it’s pretty neat, and some of them said they wanted their rooms painted the same way-so they like it.”
Looking ahead to the future, Ratzlaff said the room has all the equipment needed to provide the Snoezelen environment.
She said she hopes to have staff training sessions in the future and also educate family members on the benefits of the room.
“I’m glad we have it because it gives us another way to provide service to residents who have dementia or Alzheimer’s,” she said.
“It’s nice to have somewhere to take them and be with them for a while so they can calm down, and then they’re able to handle going back out.”