The sensory spas at Sunshine Retirement Living provide a variety of stimuli that work together to improve cognitive, behavioral and communication issues by engaging all five senses. The spas include soothing sound machines to calm anxiety, mood-enhancing variable lighting and virtual reality headsets offering a variety of virtual experiences to help uncover memories and improve socialization, reports McKnight’s Senior Living’s recent article entitled “Spa program reduces use of antipsychotics, other meds in memory care residents.”

Sunshine Regional Vice President of Operations Kena Phillips told McKnight’s Senior Living that she adapted the concept from research regarding the use of sensory rooms for people with autism. The idea grew out of the knowledge that people living with dementia become more introspective, necessitating efforts to work with all five senses “to bring them joy, peace and comfort.”

In a 60-day pilot program at Sunshine’s Copper Canyon assisted living and memory care community in Tucson, Arizona, antipsychotic use among residents decreased dramatically, including up to 70% of medications administered on an as-needed basis.

“Recent medical research has found that sensory stimulation in sensory spa settings can decrease non-pharmacological interventions and help manage responsive behaviors among residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s,” said Sunshine Retirement Living CEO Luis Serrano, adding that the positive outcomes from the pilot program were better than anticipated.

Because of these results, Sunshine installed sensory spas at all of its memory care communities in a number of states. The spas are now part of the company’s life enrichment programs and complement its pet therapy, music therapy, life skills stations and activities and other programming.

Sunshine explained that memory care residents have unique needs based on the progression of disease. Offering a variety of activities can prevent feelings of boredom and isolation that can lead to depression, frustration, anxiety and an increased use of medications.

“As dementia progresses, it can be very confusing and stressful for the person living with it,” Sunshine Retirement Living Director of Clinical Services Mindy Podraza told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Sunshine Retirement Living’s sensory spas provide a quiet environment where our residents can focus on pleasant sensory sensations that can help refocus that energy and decrease challenging behaviors.”

The dedicated sensory spa rooms offer various seating options, including rocking chairs to encourage movement, aromatherapy and essential oils, large wall murals and multi-tactile materials and objects, including soft, heated and weighted blankets. Large wall monitors and TVs show various scenes to calm and promote past memories and scenarios, such as travel or meditation.

Reference: McKnight’s Senior Living (March 14, 2022) “Spa program reduces use of antipsychotics, other meds in memory care residents”

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