Valuing sensation and sentience in the care of people with dementia (Research Report English)

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The study involved enriching the sensed world of a small group of confused older people. A participatory nursing project, it specifically entailed working with management and staff to implement and evaluate two sensory rooms in a co-located dementia-specific unit. Over a one-year period, data were collected in relation to approximately eighty sensory enrichment sessions undertaken in these rooms with s eventeen residents who lived in the unit.

During the sessions, residents were offered a variety of sensory experiences including aromatic massage, music, interesting lighting and other visual effects, tasty snacks and numerous tactile aids including dolls and soft toys. Sessions were tailored according to each resident's preferences and videotaped with the residents' permission.


Medical and nursing files belonging to the seventeen participating residents were scrutinised and seventeen interviews conducted with staff participants. These included ten with personal care workers, five with registered nurses, one with the Care Manager and one with the Chief Executive Officer of the organisation. Twelve of the residents' families also were interviewed and extensive periods of participant observation undertaken. In addition, an observational tool called Dementia Care Mapping (DCM) was used for the first time in Australia to evaluate residents\' everyday experiences of care practice outside the sensory rooms. Approximately 70 hours of DCM observation was completed in the unit. The data analysis phase of the research project commenced with the collection of initial data, continued throughout t he data collection period and for a period of twelve months after completion of the project.

The research findings revealed that through their spoken or unspoken word, residents expressed pleasure or displeasure with different experiences in the sensory rooms. A couple of residents did not like the rooms, while others refused to participate in sensory bathing sessions. While the wishes of these residents were respected, most others were observed to experience periods of deep relaxation, pleasure and comfort.

One significant outcome as a result of sensory sessions was that staff who participated in the project considered the residents in another light. Rather than view these people in terms of their 'demented behaviour', staff perceived them as unique, sensing and sentient persons. A significant outcome of Dementia Care Mapping was it demonstrated that positive change in care practice was possible and achievable. The project recommendations include firstly, the compelling need for education and practice which focuses on providing appropriate and enjoyable sensory experiences for confused older people. Secondly, a need exists to ensure care practice actually r esults in enhanced well-being for residents. Hence, practice not only needs to be evaluated in terms of the perceptions of managers, staff and others but also, in terms of the perception of the person with dementia.

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