Payson’s Rim Country Health and Retirement Community now has one of the state’s few sensory rooms as a therapy tool for its residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. At some point the room may also be made available to children with sensory processing disorders, such as autism, said Lynnette Sommers, director of nursing at the facility, who spearheaded the drive to get the room.
The room is equipped with a variety of stations with specific sensory equipment and activities. These tools help calm or stimulate depending on the patient’s need.
Sommers said in 2006 Medicare recognized the need for this kind of therapy for patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
She saw one of the state’s first such facilities during a visit to the Veterans Administration hospital in Phoenix about 18 months ago.
“I was enthralled by it,” Sommers said.
She was so impressed she started researching the benefits of sensory room therapy and the documented successes made her start her campaign to get one at Rim Country Health.
“One of the problems with the Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is they have difficulty with communication and the noise, lights and odors in the environment (of the facility). The room is a sanctuary from noise. The light is controlled. There are soothing sounds and smells,” she said.
There are mirrors.
“Some people have not seen themselves in a long time,” Sommers said.
Another tool in the room is a collection of lifelike dolls. Women patients who are agitated will sit down with the dolls and seem to be comforted and calmed by them, Sommers said.
Because the normal sounds, smells and bright lights of the facility can be blocked in the sensory room, some patients can use it for meditation.
“We have cricket sounds and black lights and tree shadow lights that can create a backyard environment,” Sommers said. This set of tools was used to help a patient who had been very active in the Boy Scouts, she said. It was very helpful.
She said she has seen reports of the sensory room helping “unlock” someone who had not spoken in years. It has also been effective in helping patients with cognitive impairment, self-stimulating action (picking at or scratching themselves), chronic pain issues, as well as those in agitated states.
The room used to be for storage, Sommers said. It cost $6,000 to remodel it and outfit it with 30 different activities. It was funded with assistance from the Mogollon Health Alliance and the Gracie Lee Haught Children’s Foundation.