Multisensory environments (MSE) in dementia care : the role of design : an interdisciplinary research collaboration between design and health care

Jakob, Anke and Collier, Lesley (2013) Multisensory environments (MSE) in dementia care : the role of design : an interdisciplinary research collaboration between design and health care. In: 2nd European Conference on Design 4 Health 2013; 03 - 05 Jul 2013, Sheffield, U.K..


An interdisciplinary research project has evolved from a broad consideration in respect to the rising number of people with dementia, rapid growth of an ageing population, over-prescribed use of antipsychotic medication and the need for cost-effective interventions supporting dementia care. Within this context, this research aims to explore the quality of multisensory stimulation offered in homes for residents living with dementia, focusing on Multisensory Environments (MSEs) in particular, and whether design can improve such experiences and maximise therapeutic benefits. MSEs are widely used in dementia care as a meaningful leisure activity and a therapeutic intervention. However, evidence suggests that they often fail to address the specific needs of people with dementia due to inadequate design and poor facilitation. Also, little research has considered the impact of MSE design on engagement and wellbeing. Hence, this research investigates the aesthetic and functional qualities of MSEs currently provided, such as material, colour, imagery, spatial set-up, usability, and accessibility, with the aim of establishing reasons for success and failure. The research includes learning about the approach and challenges care home staff face in their daily work and exploring how they can be supported in providing improved care. Care homes have been visited to examine and record how they facilitate MSEs, applying ethnographic methods that incorporate structured interviews with care staff and managers, observations of sensory sessions and a focus group workshop with care home staff. The results of this study will inform the development of design recommendations for MSEs for people with dementia, potentially maximising the benefits for residents through improved design providing a person-centred experience. At the time of the conference the project was in its early stage and only preliminary results were available. The paper therefore focuses on the research context and discusses the process of identifying and setting the problem and research question. This research, a collaboration between researchers from design and occupational therapy, is funded by the Arts and Humanity Research Council (AHRC) and supported by Care UK.

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