Kingston University expert designs sensory room for local care home

New facility is specially designed to enhance the lives of residents with dementia

A new sensory room has opened at Coombe Hill Manor care home in Kingston, designed especially for people with dementia

Residents of the dementia suite at a Kingston care home have had their lives transformed by a new sensory room created by a leading design researcher from Kingston University.

The facility at Coombe Hill Manor care home, part of the Signature Group, was co-designed by Dr Anke Jakob in collaboration with staff and families of residents.

It uses multi-sensory, immersive technology to create a space that is specifically tuned to the needs of people living with dementia.

"I was approached by the care home team who were keen to transform an under-used lounge into a space where residents living with dementia could relax and enjoy activities they can manage," Dr Jakob explained.

"The elements we've incorporated into the design are particularly suited for people in later stages of dementia, when activities requiring more cognitive abilities become challenging.

“Although cognition may be deteriorating, a person with dementia still can relate to emotional and sensory memories."

The room, which was opened by the Mayor of Kingston, Councillor Margaret Thompson, includes colour-changing fibre-optic lights and a high-specification projector which is used to show images that create a sense of tranquillity and stimulate positive memories.

It is also used to play music performances and to connect residents with family members via Skype.

The room features colour-changing lighting, projectors, speakers and has soft textiles and natural materials

The projector is Bluetooth-enabled, enabling family visitors to display photos and videos using their own devices to help recreate memories and maintain relationships.

Dr Jakob is a leading expert in designing sensory environments. Her research focuses on how textiles, light and colour can be used to benefit people with cognitive limitations.

In collaboration with occupational therapist, Dr Lesley Collier from Brunel University, she has developed a guide for carers and care homes entitled How to make a sensory room for people living with dementia.

The new room at Coombe Hill Manor puts into practice many of the guide’s recommendations.

Alongside the technological interventions, there are also soft textiles and tactile materials, natural items such as dry twigs, and a fireplace that is lit to look like a real fire.

Incorporating these features was important for familiarity and comfort, providing a warm and intimate atmosphere and making the space informal, homely and relaxing.

Deborah Harding of the home's activity team said: “At Coombe Hill Manor we believe in creating profound experiences to help deliver positive outcomes for our residents.

“We spent a lot of time researching and developing the sensory room with Dr Jakob and her team, as well the families of our residents, to ensure it would deliver the right results.

“I believe it will have an extremely-positive impact on our residents' wellbeing."

The room was designed in collaboration with Dr Anke Jakob, a dementia design expert at Kingston University

Dr Jakob will be working with care home residents and staff over the coming months, along with her research collaborator, Dr Collier, to gather their feedback on the space.

This will inform future design work, with Dr Jakob hoping to roll out the design project in some of the other homes also owned by Signature Care Group.

"This new facility will make a real difference for the residents of the dementia suite at Coombe Hill Manor”, she said.

“The room offers a safe destination and retreat from a busy environment - a space the residents can inhabit, together with visiting relatives, and which can be personalised according to their needs.

“This will help them feel comfortable in their surroundings, enjoying meaningful experiences and stimulating positive feelings which can help to alleviate boredom, frustration and depression."