Jane Carlo, recreation director at the Elm Street facility, introduced eight patients to the idea after seeing such a room, called Snoezelen, at the Masonic Health Care Center in Wallingford.
Snoezelen originated in the Netherlands in the early 1980s to help mentally retarded children and adults, according to Flaghouse, a Snoezelen distributor based in New Jersey.
Medical professionals thought patients lacked stimulation and sought methods for eliciting responses through their senses of touch, hearing, sight, smell and taste.
About 100 Snoezelen rooms have been built in the United States and more than 2,000 are in Europe, most designed for children with learning disabilities.
At St. Camillus, patients use the room for 10 minutes three times a week, Carlo said. Most patients became relaxed, though others had no reaction or became agitated.
"You never know what response you will get, but that is not our concern," Carlo said. "Our goal is to document their response and see what works and what doesn't work for the patient to help stimulate their senses."
Joan Camurati, a resident at St. Camillus since 2001, no longer speaks, is often agitated and blurts out sounds. She stares blankly, unaware of her surroundings and jumps when she is touched.
After spending 10 minutes in the Snoezelen room recently, Camurati appeared calm and reacted to lights and objects by staring at each one, Carlo said.
"See how calm she is now, and attentive she is to the objects," she said. "These are the results we are looking for."
Carlo used a colored bubble machine, similar to a lava lamp, to try to provoke visual and auditory senses.
An aroma diffuser filled the air with lavender, a medically proven relaxation scent. Patients also listened to soothing music while a projector showed colored images of water. A spotlight and mirror ball twirled around the room, casting colored shadows.
Carlo adjusted each object based on Camurati's response. When she entered the room, Camurati was agitated, but she quickly calmed down. When she later became agitated again, Carlo removed the projected image and Camurati was calm.
"It's not going to be 100 percent successful, but if we can help one person, we consider that success," said John Halleran, St. Camillus' administrator.
Health professionals from Masonic Health Care Center shared information about how the room works during a recent conference at the Alzheimer's Resource Center in Plantsville.
Sharon Louchen, director of recreation at Masonic, said the practice is based on trial and error.
"You have to go into the room and try new things. What works today might not work tomorrow," Louchen said. "For so many of our dementia patients, Snoezelen gives them peace. If they are agitated, it calms them down. If they are hearing impaired, it gives them some tactical stimulation. If they are visually impaired, it gives them visual stimulation."
She said her goal is to collect data to determine whether Snoezelen may be used as an alternative to medication.
"If they have peace for 15 minutes while they are in the Snoezelen room, it could be possible to take them off their medications or reduce medications," she said. "But more study is needed to determine if that is possible."
Veronica Bolcik, vice president of merchandise for Flaghouse, said Snoezelen is used in nursing homes, hospice care, independent living facilities and schools.
"It is such a basic concept," Bolcik said. "By controlling the environment, whether it is sound, sight, smell or touch, it is the basic stimuli that comes into the body and it has an extremely powerful effect."
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(c) 2004, The Stamford Advocate, Conn. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.
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