Sensory stimulation refers to interventions designed to stimulate one or more of the five senses. These interventions are designed to provide a relaxing and soothing activity which is failure free, responsive to the individual, and is enabling. Sensory stimulation interventions can include listening to music, looking at pictures, warming essential oils in a diffuser, tasting foods (diet and allergies taken into account), and physical contact such as hand massages or facials with scented lotion. It can also include specially designed environments called either a Snoezelen room or Snoezelen cart.
In the late 1970s, two Dutch therapists, Jan Hulsegge and Ad Verheul defined the concept of Snoezelen. While working in a center for people with intellectual disabilities in Holland, the two therapists discovered the positive responses a colleague was able to elicit from his clients while exposed to a sensory environment he had assembled. Over a period of time, Hulsegge and Verheul experimented with simple tools such as musical instruments, tactile bottles, and flavorful foods to find that clients (especially low-functioning ones) demonstrated positive feedback. During this time, they gave their concept a name: Snoezelen, a combination of the Dutch verbs “snuffelen,” which means to seek out or explore, and “doezelen,” which means “to relax. At that time, Snoezelen products were limited and were mostly adapted from existing materials. Today, Snoezelen has grown in sophistication and uses state of the art technology to provide an all-inclusive sensory experience. Forty years later, Snoezelen is now used widely in education and care settings for children with disabilities and in care centers for the elderly. Snoezelen has also grown into a worldwide movement in more than 30 countries and international research projects.
The effects of Snoezelen are multi-faceted and more continue to be discovered. For children with special needs, Snoezelen can provide an environment stimulates motivation and supports concentration and coordination. Interventions with Snoezelen can reduce anxiety, depression, and tension in people with mental health problems and allow them to open up and discuss their feelings. Snoezelen has also been found to help people with autism, stroke, and traumatic brain injury, and helps to distract people from pain. Also, current results from studies paint a picture of consistent improvement in a broad range of clients with dementia.
The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) has looked into Snoezelen and Sensory Stimulation. Some of these projects include:
• Investigating the Effects of Snoezelen in Children Recovering from Severe Brain Injury. (H133G070119).
• Role of Sensation and Sensory Stimulation to Improve Hand Grip in Persons with Stroke. (H133F110005).
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