2013-03-14 00:00

“AT first they were Calvinistic ‘aunties’ who wouldn’t touch anything, but once they started touching all the things in the room they couldn’t stop. Misgivings were completely forgotten. This place is like a womb.”

This is according to Ina Smith, a caregiver who works with mentally challenged residents at the Park Care Centre in Johannesburg, who was commenting on the effect that the centre’s latest addition, a Snoezelen room, is having on its patients.

A Snoezelen room is a place where multisensory therapy is carried out.

The idea is to stimulate the senses of mentally challenged people, and particularly those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, to enable them to recall happy memories.

The room, which smells like lavender and lemon, contains clothes and toys with which patients can play. There are also different kinds of lighting, and music is played in the background. Patients can also make their own music with instruments.

Then there is a sand pit and a vibrating chair.

Jenni Comins, the centre’s occupational therapist, said the results have been “unbelievable”.

“The therapy makes them peaceful and calm. It also gives them energy and encourages them to move around. It gives them hope,” she said.

Comins warned that the room does not “heal” people.

It delays the process of forgetting, and stimulates them intellectually and emotionally.

“People lose their short-term memory first. The last memories they lose are those relating to their childhood — the music they grew up with, and the smells and tastes of their mother’s house.”

Susan Booyens, manager of the centre, said it also relieves the emotional burden of visiting hours.

In the United States there are massive Snoezelen rooms, but this form of treatment is still rare in South Africa, according to Comins.

Sheila Garvie, a resident known as the “80-year-old hippie”, always puts a purple hat on her head and purple feathers around her neck. She remembers purple as her favourite colour.

“The room is fantastic. Everybody has something in them that wants to come out and this room brings it out,” she said.

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