New multi-sensory room helps children with disabilities

September 22, 2011

RED DEER — A new local treatment space is now providing multi-sensory therapy for hundreds of local children with developmental, sensory, cognitive or physical disabilities.

The Snoezelen (pronounced Snooze-a-lin) Room, which went into operation this summer at the 49th Street Community Health Centre, can stimulate or relax young patients through the use of touch, sound, vibration, colour and/or light.

"The room is designed to gently stimulate some, or all, of the senses depending on the needs of the child, which in turn leads to improvements in their overall health and development,” says Janis Carscadden, Allied Health Services for Children manager at the Alberta Health Services (AHS) facility.

She says controlled sensory input has been shown to be effective in reducing stress and improving concentration, eye-hand coordination and motor function for children with special needs, developmental disabilities, mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, chronic pain, stroke, brain injuries, dementia and other conditions.

A wide range of health care providers – including occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech-language pathologists – can use the Snoezelen Room.

“We’ve already seen the difference it can make,” says pediatric occupational therapist Steve Tetz. “Depending on their needs or how the room is being used with an individual child, they can become excited and engaged and be drawn out of their shell to an extent. Or with some children it can be used for relaxation – in some cases they relax so much that they fall asleep.”

Tetz says the activities in the room can also encourage children who are non-verbal to express themselves in other ways.

Developing and providing more programs to help children be strong mentally and physically is among the goals outlined in the 5-Year Health Action Plan, jointly developed by the Government of Alberta and AHS, and supported by the province’s stable, 5-year funding.

Kerry Bales, Senior Vice President for the Central Zone of AHS, says the room will be a great resource for Red Deer and other central Alberta communities.

“Families in Lacombe, Sylvan Lake, Innisfail, Stettler, Olds and Rocky Mountain House, for example, also have access to the services here. And depending on their child’s rehabilitation needs, they now will have access to the Snoezelen Room,” says Bales.

AHS Board member Dr. Kamalesh Gangopadhyay adds: “Enhancements like this Snoezelen room will touch the lives of families in a way that traditional medicine cannot.”

Six-year-old Megan Milne, who has cerebral palsy, is already benefiting from the space. The room’s fiberoptic lights and soft music relax the local girl, allowing physiotherapists to stretch and strengthen her legs with much less resistance than in previous settings.

“Megan is very happy in here,” says mother Melisa Milne. “She recently had surgery and her muscles need to be stretched so they don’t lose function, which isn’t always comfortable. Megan isn’t resistant to therapy in this room because it offers so much that keeps her relaxed. One of her most favourite things is music, and she likes soft pillows and lights, so this room just brings it all to her.”

The room was made possible through donations from the Central Alberta Oilmen’s Association, which has been providing support for Allied Health Services children’s services since 1994, donating approximately $55,000 for equipment and programs over the years.

“We are all extremely excited about this venture because it will give the staff at the Centre another tool to help these wonderful children,” says Gerard Purvis, vice president with the Central Alberta Oilmen’s Association.

Snoezelen comes from the Dutch words snufflen, which means to seek out or explore, and doezelen, which means to relax.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than 3.7 million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

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