Dementia is extremely common among the elderly, and because there is no cure, the treatments seek to slow the disease’s pace and reduce the anxiety and depression that always afflict the person to some degree. The best-known treatments involve hospitalization and drugs, but in the Netherlands, therapists and homes have found inspiring success with other means.
In the 1980’s, those with dementia were treated much more clinically. In the 1990’s, after not seeing much progress with the old ways, turned to alternatives like sound-and-aroma therapy. As virtual reality tech progressed, places like a care facility in Haarlem recreated environments like bus stops, beaches, and cafes. Known as “snoezelen” rooms, these areas stimulate the senses using light, color, music, scents, and more. There are also projects like Bike Labyrinth, which connects a screen simulation of a bike ride through town to a seated treadmill.
With simulations, dementia patients are able to gather together, share an experience apart from their normal lives, and talk about other memories of beach days or cafes if they want. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much scientific study of the effects of snoezelen rooms and dementia. In Brussels, a small study with just nine clients with autism found that “distress and stereotypical behavior” was reduced by 50%.
Even without technology, dementia treatment can be tailored to help reduce the use of medications and make patients feel more at home. Care centers will include vintage decorations like typewriters, rotary-dial phones, books, and old-fashioned furniture. Memories from childhood and youth are often the strongest, so appealing to that aspect of their lives makes people feel more comfortable.
What the Netherlands has shown with their unique approach to dementia is that how you treat the patient really matters. Dementia isn’t like the flu or another disease you can treat in a hospital. It alters a person’s entire life and triggers a lot of confusion and depression. Creating safe spaces that don’t feel clinical or cold can help dramatically, and technology can bring the world to people who can no longer interact with the outside world like they used to. Hopefully the United States will adopt more of these techniques and studies researching the effects can be performed.