The influence of cuddling and ‘snoezelen’ on people suffering from dementia

Smelling, seeing, feeling and hearing; the four human senses, helping you to discover the world and place things into perspective. The senses are extremely important for every human being, but especially for people with dementia. “Snoezelen” is a way of activating the senses in a cosy room, which can be very beneficial for people with dementia. In a ‘snoezel’room residents can enjoy scents, touching, music, warmth, tastes and light.

Snoezelen: sniffing and dozing

The word ‘snoezelen’ was coined by contracting two Dutch words: snuffelen and doezelen. “Snuffelen” means sniffing, exploring something by using the senses and “doezelen” means dozing, experiencing a relaxing and peaceful sense of warmth and passivity.

People can snoezel individually or in a group. There can be dedicated snoezel rooms designed to sooth and stimulate the senses; smelling, tasting, feeling, hearing and seeing. In the room are for example perfumes, flowers, drinks, special lighting or glowing, colourful objects and music. There can also be pillows, cuddly toys, dolls or sand to touch and feel. The aim is to create a soothing and relaxing atmosphere for residents, a place where they can be at ease.

The origin of snoezelen

Snoezelen, or controlled multisensory environment, originates from the seventies in ’s Heeren Loo in the Netherlands. One of the inventors, Ad Verheul, was working as a therapist voor the residents. 80% of the residents there have multiple disabilities. At that time these people were viewed as being residents. They stayed in wards and were looked after by nurses. There were few stimuli and challenges and so they were in bed most of the day, staring at the ceiling. To change this passivity, Ad Verheul and one of his colleagues explored  how they could activate the residents. Ad knew from his Art School education that the environment can have a positive effect on humans. Ad and his colleague started to place mobiles above the beds. This caused people to react, by an eye or arm movement. They called this experiment ‘primary activation’. At a conference they discovered that similar experiments were done in other nursing homes. In one of the homes, Haarendal, the word “snoezelen” was used. This word was adapted by Ad Verheul and from then on the term has stayed with us to indicate controlled multisensory stimulation therapy.

Snoezelen in practice

Snoezeling is mostly done by individuals in homes where there are snoezel facilities. By observing the people and conversations with their kin, carers try to find out about the resident’s life and his or her likes and dislikes. The snoezelroom can be tailor made on the basis of this information. Favourite music, familiar scents and soft objects can help to enhance the effect of snoezeling. Caretakers are trained to use snoezelen effectively and to find out about the people’s preferences.

Results of snoezelen

Research done by NIVEL shows that seniors suffering from dementia living in nursing homes who snoezel daily, are less passive, less defiant and less aggressive. They tend to complain less and take more pleasure in the contact with their carers. Likewise, the carers experience the benefits of snoezelen. They are more satisfied with the quality of the care they can offer, with the contact they have with the residents and with their own professional development. They reported to feel less stressed. The NIVEL survey also shows that the carers feel more confident when they use snoezelen. They are able to better deal with the more difficult behaviour of the residents and know what can cause them feel more at ease.

Short term effect

Other research also supports the positive effects of snoezelen. 75% of all nursing homes in the Netherlands already have a snoezel room where residents can relax. However, research has shown that the beneficial effect of the room disappears when residents come back to the communal room, which is mostly rather sterile. In order to attain a long-term effect snoezeling should be part of daily care.

Julia van Weert, professor of Health Communication explains that care in nursing homes has always been task focused: at 10 a.m. every resident should be dressed and at 5 p.m. they have to have dinner. By combining the stimulus of the senses with daily care, carers focus on residents instead of tasks. The clock shouldn’t be leading. This change of focus is quite a cultural change.  

Creating small snoezel corners in the corridors is a way to take care of daily snoezeling. A plus side would be that persons with dementia don’t wander, but stop and sit at the snoezel corner. The quality of life of the residents can be considerably improved by creating these spaces in the homes.

Kozie helps the residents to snoezel where they want, because the KozieMe pillow is portable. This means that the carers can bring snoezeling to the residents instead of bringing the residents to a snoezel space. So, everybody can enjoy snoezeling, also the people with reduced mobility.



NIVEL onderzoek naar de effecten van snoezelen op stemming en gedrag van demente verpleeghuisbewoners en werkbeleving van verzorgenden

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