- Associated Press - Saturday, March 4, 2017

BEDFORD, Va. (AP) - What was dreamt up as a getaway room for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases now has become a favorite spot for all patients as well as some staff at Oakwood Rehabilitation and Health in Bedford.

Oakwood is located on the campus of Bedford Memorial Hospital and provides intermediate and long-term care for patients needing recovery, rehabilitation and therapy.

The new sensory room, which opened this month at the rehab center on Oakwood Street, is the brainchild of Tracy Chisholm, director of nurses for the facility. It has been a dream of hers to open one for about 18 months.

A sensory room is used to stimulate the sensory system through sight, sound, smell and touch.

Its primary target groups are those suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s - disorders affecting the brain.

However, Chisholm said the room affects just about everyone who walks into it, regardless of health, age or ability.

Chisholm gathered information on sensory rooms and presented it to the auxiliary, asking for funding. The auxiliary is a part of volunteer services that raises funds for the center every year.

Denise “Dede” Edwards, director of volunteers and the auxiliary, said when Chisholm presented her with the idea for a sensory room, she was “blown away.”

“I was sold,” she said. “I presented it to the auxiliary board with a lot of excitement, and they bought into it.”

The auxiliary presented Chisholm with about $12,000 last year.

Two weeks ago, Edwards brought the members of the auxiliary to the sensory room for the first time since it was completed in mid-February.

“We feel proud to do this and have had the opportunity to buy into this,” she said.

The room offers fiber optic cables coming out of a bean bag, cushions on the floor, aromatherapy oils, a heated massage chair, a disco ball that projects lights and a bubble tube.

The room is there for all patients, regardless if they are there for a short rehab visit or have settled in as a long-term resident.

“Studies have shown that these rooms can not only decrease discomfort experienced by patients, but they are also noted to increase engagement,” Chisholm said. “Clinically we expect to see a decrease in symptoms patients traditionally suffer from, (including) apathy, agitation and anxiety, while simultaneously improving activities of daily living.”

Just in the past few two weeks of utilizing the room, staff has experienced a varied range of resident responses, from excitement associated with the stimulation to relaxation from the calming sound of the bubbles and dim lighting.

“Honestly we are elated with either outcome,” Chisholm said. “The intention is engagement and increased quality of life, regardless of how that translates to the individual.”

Because the room is so new, Oakwood’s Communications and Marketing Director Christy Lucy said there were no patients or family members able to speak with The News & Advance about their experiences in the room.

She said the greatest benefits to patients are an improved quality of life and a sense of escape.

The average patient stays in the room for about an hour, but depending on their attention span, some will stay for five minutes, 30 minutes or for more than an hour. Sometimes a patient will fall asleep, according to Chisholm.

Chisholm and Kim Kirsch, assistant director of nurses, said there is a patient at Oakwood who is very nervous in nature and is non-verbal in communicating her needs, but she will come into the sensory room for an hour and watch the bubbles, touch the fiber optics and fall asleep in her chair.

“It was precious,” Chisholm said. “And that’s exactly why we did this.”

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Information from: The News & Advance, https://www.newsadvance.com/


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