A Stimulating Environment

Linda’s work has once again been featured in the news! This time she is featured during the training of the staff at Sunnyside Retirement Community in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The article is as follows:

A Stimulating Environment

Sunnyside Multisensory Program Targets Stress

By Alexandra Conroy
March 29, 2011

Harrisonburg – As soon as 83-year-old Jeanette Fox entered the multisensory room at the Sunnyside retirement community recently, her eyes fixed on the tall, neon-lit bubble tube in the corner.

Glennette Carter, activity coordinator for the health care center and Fox’s daughter, rolled her mother up to the tube, then sat beside her and held her hand.

Within moments, a sheer white curtain divided the small room, the lights dimmed and big-bad music began to play.

Fox, a resident at Sunnyside who suffers from dementia, enjoys the big-band genre, which was popular when she was a young woman. She used to be a dancer and the music brings her back to a more carefree, active time in her life.

Her left hand cradles the side of her head as a large, bright kaleidoscope projection on the white wall danced with the beat of the music.

As she sat in front of the tube, she kept pressing the button on the color-control box that made the tube glow blue – her favorite color. And after 15 minutes, she closed her eyes.

But soon, she said “that’s enough” to her daughter and they shared a laugh.

So, the projection vanished, the music faded and the lights returned.

Igniting the Senses

Fox is one of a growing number of Sunnyside residents to benefit from the community’s new multisensory environment, a specially designed space used to ignite the senses, reduce stress and relax those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism, behavioral disorders, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress syndrome and even job stress.

MSEs were developed in the Netherlands in the 1970s and originally the spaces were called snoezelen (pronounced snooze-uh-len), which translates roughly to “explore and relax” in Dutch.

The rooms are typically found in nursing homes and hospitals. Usually, they’re equipped with a tall bubble tube, a projector for images, comfortable seating and music.

Sunnyside officials would not say how much they spent to outfit their MSE. Generally speaking, the rooms cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $30,000 or more, depending on the size and scope of a room’s equipment and accessories.

‘Life and Joy’

MSE expert Linda Messbauer controlled most of the equipment in the room as part of a recent three-day instruction session for staff at Sunnyside. Messbauer asked Fox on her way out if she enjoyed her experience.

“I liked it,” she said. “I found it fun.”

The MSE room at Sunnyside has been operating for several months. So far, the room’s been quite a success, Carter said.

“This is something that can bring life and joy to these residents,” she said. “And it has.”

Messbauer, who establish the first MSE in the United States in 1992, has been an international speaker and trainer on the spaces. As part of her therapy, she collects the subject’s so-called “sensory diet” to tailor each experience to an individual’s preferences.

“Most of the equipment produces color [and] it can bring back a lot of their memories,” Messbauer said. “Your sensory diet will stay with you your whole life.”

So, for example, she played hymns for a Sunnyside resident who was a minister.

She told the staff during training to carefully observe each resident in the MSE to adapt the experience to the resident’s change in behavior. If a resident is looking down, she said, slowly raise the projected image on the wall up so they might lift their head. But don’t talk during the therapy, she said

“Why would someone who is confused … then [want to] be confused by me talking?” Messbauer said.

“It’s mind-boggling how much is going on behind the scenes in this room,” said Marth Sieck, who has been a part of the room’s development.

Sieck’s father, the late Aubrey Johns, started a fund in 2006 to help purchase an MSE for Sunnyside, where he was a resident.

He got the idea after reading about a similar MSE at nearby Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community.

Communication Aide

VMRC has had an MSE for six years. The room there has beaded curtains, aromatherapy, a work bench, and many other items to stimulate and relax residents.

“We use it to give the residents a different environment,” said Jane Spitzer, life enrichment program manager at VMRC. The room has become an area for families and staff to work with residents who have a hard time expressing themselves, she said.

“It’s hard for families to know what to do when their [loved ones] can’t communicate well,” Spitzer said. “[The MSE] has really helped some residents and some families engage with each other who couldn’t before.”

While the therapy doesn’t work for everyone, she said, “just giving them a different place to be has been really nice.”