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King's Grant unveils new tool for dementia
Shanna Wright, King’s Grant health services director, stands in the Dietrich Multi-Sensory Room recently at King’s Grant. The room includes towers of bubbling water, twinkling lights, fiber-optic lights and more to help stimulate or calm residents. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
Twin columns of bubbling, glowing liquid stretch to the ceiling and slowly shift from blue to red to green, while starbursts twinkle along the walls and a bundle of fiber-optic strands pulse with soft colors.
It may sound like a scene from the next “Star Trek” movie, but it actually is the newest addition to King’s Grant Retirement Community: a multi-sensory room designed to calm or stimulate residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
The room, which has been in use at King’s Grant since mid-October, was dedicated Wednesday night to Dr. Craig Dietrich, the community’s corporate representative and a member of its regional advisory council.
According to Becky Farrar, executive director of King’s Grant, Dietrich was instrumental in getting the multi-sensory room at King’s Grant.
Farrar said she and Dietrich saw one of the rooms while returning from a corporate board meeting in Harrisonburg, and they were impressed.
“(Dietrich) stepped forward and he said, ‘Becky, you get me an idea of how much that’s going to cost, and I’ll make the first donation,’” Farrar said.
Dietrich also played a role in soliciting donations from the King’s Grant community, mainly securing donations from board members and staff, she said. Several residents also pitched in and attended the dedication.
Jack Broaddus, president and CEO of Sunnyside Communities, spoke at the dedication. Sunnyside Communities, based in Harrisonburg, owns King’s Grant and two other retirement communities.
Broaddus explained that multi-sensory rooms were created in the Netherlands, where they are known as “Snoezelen rooms.”
According to online sources, Snoezelen is a combination of two Dutch words, one meaning to seek out or explore, the other meaning to doze or snooze.
The rooms originally were created to stimulate those with autism or developmental disabilities and later were found to benefit people with dementia. The rooms mainly are popular in Europe, though they gradually are appearing in the United States as well.
“If you look at it from the industry perspective,” Broaddus said, “we’re one of the unique locations to have one of these.”
The multi-sensory room contains a vibrating chair, two columns of bubbling water, mirrors, soft pillows, a projector capable of displaying several different kinds of light patterns on the walls, bundles of fiber-optic strands and other objects designed to provide a unique sensory experience.
Everything in the room can be controlled by an operator. In some cases, the operator can be a trained family member. A simple control board is used to change the color of the lights in the bubbling cylinders and fiber-optic strands.
Music also can be played in the room, and the chair vibrates in time with the music.
Currently, the three King’s Grant staff members who have received training on how to operate the room are Shanna Wright, health services director; Todd Barnes, nursing home administrator; and Andrea Braziel, activities coordinator.
The three led a demonstration of the room following the dedication, and all had stories of the positive effects they had seen the room have on the residents.
Wright told of one wheelchair-bound resident who generally sits bent-over in her chair, staring at the floor. While in the multi-sensory room, she raised her head and sat up straight to watch the light show projected on the wall.
Barnes told of a resident whom they were trying to stimulate. But no matter what music they played, including a CD of cello renditions of Metallica songs, she sat still in the chair, seemingly asleep.
After the session, she stood up, grabbed her walker and began dancing.
According to Wright, the most moving sight she has witnessed in the room involved a resident who never speaks and is immobile.
“Her and her private duty sitter have been coming in here regularly,” Wright said, “and one of the times I was in here with them, she seemed real restless in her recliner, so we sat her straight up. ... Clear as a bell, she said, ‘I’ve got to dance.’ The sitter started crying. I had tears in my eyes.”
Since the multi-sensory room opened in mid-October, about 40 residents have used it, Wright said. Most residents have used the room multiple times. The average session lasts 30-45 minutes.
“We want this room to be utilized as much as possible,” Wright said.
At the dedication, Dietrich received a plaque inscribed with a quote from author Richelle Goodrich: “We never think lightly of those who walk with us on our uphill days.”
“I am humbled by this recognition,” Dietrich said. “I was struck by the testimonials of the staff at Sunnyside where they have their room, and just thought it could be a wonderful asset to our residents here at King’s Grant ... I certainly appreciate all of you who contributed, because obviously I didn’t do it all.”
“It really is just an amazing thing.”