A Snoezelroom for Children with Severe Brain Injuries in Miami

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In the 1970s, two Dutch therapists designed the concept of Snoezelen -- a unique room filled with sights, sounds and smells to stimulate the senses. The word is a contraction of the Dutch verbs "snuffelen" ("to seek out or explore") and "doezelen" ("to relax"). Jan Hulsegge and Ad Verheul originally developed the rooms for people with developmental disabilities. Since then, the rooms have grown in popularity and have been used to help soothe and calm Alzheimer's patients, premature babies, handicapped people and autistic children.


An invasion of the senses

The room features various pieces of equipment designed to elicit stimulation from all the senses. Dr. Gillian Hotz, co-director of the Pediatric Neurotrauma Program at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Florida, said the room is different from traditional therapies, like occupational or physical therapy, because it allows the child to explore the room's features in their own time and their own way without being told to do something by a therapist. When a child enters the room, one of the first things he or she will notice is all the colors and pictures moving across the walls and ceiling. Projectors display different colors for different temperaments and moods. Hotz said red, for example, is thought to bring more excitement than green or blue hues. Patients will also hear quiet, wave-like, repetitive music with no words that is designed to help them relax. Snoezelen rooms also feature different smells. Many use lavender because it's thought to be a calming scent. Some places also use cinnamon, flowers, perfumes and even coffee. Patients are also introduced to several pieces of equipment, like the leaf chair that rocks nearly conscious patients, and a ball pit that helps kids learns to use their arms, legs and hands again. For those learning to speak again, there's a "talking wall" that changes colors when the injured child talks or makes a sound into a microphone.




Treating children with brain injuries

Hotz and her staff at Jackson Memorial Medical Center in Miami were trained and certified in Snoezelen techniques and therapy by a team of Israeli doctors, who are considered the world's experts on the rooms. She's hoping that when severely brain-injured children use the room, in combination with more traditional therapies, they will need fewer drugs and instead start to heal naturally from their brain injuries. The center at the University of Miami is the first to be connected with a U.S. university, and it will be used for clinical trial research, as well as for training other therapists across the country. Hotz said the room is most beneficial for minimally conscious children just starting to follow simple commands and interact with their environment. She said children are ideal candidates for Snoezelen because of the plasticity of their neurons, meaning since they're so young, they are better able to develop new pathways and functions. Hotz says one of the greatest joys is just watching a child enter the room. "It's magic," she says. "When you see a child in this room, it's sort of like them connecting with a very special place." Currently, children with acute brain injuries who are patients at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami are receiving Snoezelen therapy at no cost.

For more information, please contact:
Dr. Gillian Hotz
University of Miami School of Medicine
Jackson Memorial Medical Center
(305) 585-1258

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