It Ain’t Necessarily So – 18: Are ‘reminiscence’ and ‘sensory’ rooms really any use?
with JOHN BURTON
I still use a soft broom that my mother bought from the Kleeneze man, selling door-to-door, in the 1950s. Indeed, my house is littered – and I use the word advisedly – with old things that have strong connections and memories for me. Some I use; some I look at; and some just clutter the place up.
I have a large collection of old radios, most of which don’t work. They are deteriorating in a shed. They make me feel guilty because I no longer collect them, and clean them, and catalogue them. I would like someone who is interested to take them off my hands and care for them as I used to.
So, I often wonder as I visit a care home with a 1950s ‘reminiscence’ room, or I see reports of a new home which boasts of such a room, what the residents will really make of it. Being old doesn’t necessarily equate with liking old things. I remember as a teenager, after a visit to Greece, coming back and proudly showing an old Devonian woman my slides of the Parthenon. She was not impressed: “What do they want all them old ruins for? Why don’t they pull ‘em down and build some decent flats?
Sensory rooms or “snoezelens” (a ‘controlled multi-sensory environment’) used to be popular, and they have their uses, particularly for younger autistic people. In the 1990s they were set up in care homes because they were believed to be relaxing and stimulating for people with dementia. Well, possibly they were for a few, but I don’t think many people liked them at all. People were ‘put’ in them and were often disturbed and confused by them. On visiting homes where there was such a room, I would sometimes find it being used as a wheelchair, hoist or walking-frame store, and very few of the 1950s rooms are used much beyond the opening day.
The way I see it, these special rooms, furniture and equipment are well-intended but miss the point. There are countless old items that conjure up memories and all sorts of ways of creating a relaxing (and stimulating) environment but they’re not much good all lumped together in a special room like a museum or like my shed full of old radios. We should look at the whole environment and have some things dotted around that stir the memory and make connections.
New care homes have a problem . . . everything’s new. Even the 1950s reminiscence room is new! It will take a few years before the place really feels like “home”, and in the meantime it will be the staff and the residents, and the relatives and visitors, who make it feel homely . . . as in warm, friendly, loving, caring, chatty, active, funny, interesting, entertaining, lively, comfortable and comforting.
We found a different way: Caring Times readers tell their stories
Deputy manager, Wales: Our care home is two years old now. It’s a lovely place and we’re proud of it. The residents all have beautiful light and airy rooms with views over the garden at the back and the front.
Some of them have their own furniture and lots of bits and pieces, ornaments, photos etc. and most of that is old and has memories for them. Several have china cabinets with special things in and if you ask them about them, all sorts of memories and stories come flooding back.
One of our residents has tea parties in her room. She’s got a whole tea set, a beautiful teapot, hot water jug and milk jug, a cake stand and lovely cups and saucers. She and a couple of friends have tea together, cakes and all.
But there’s one room that seems to me to be a waste of space – the reminiscence room. What’s it for? No-one goes in there, or at least none of the residents do. The staff use it sometimes as a meeting room. It’s full of old and reproduction tat. I’d like to get it out and put it around the place and use it. And use the room for something else like crafts, or painting, but we can’t because it appears on all the brochures!
Head of home, South Coast: The proprietors refurbished this home and thought it would be a good idea to have a reminiscence room and a sensory room with all the gadgets. I managed to persuade them to save their cash – not difficult! I’ve seen homes with all that stuff and it appeals to the PR people more than the residents.
But I know people like to have some old familiar objects around and we just started collecting a few which isn’t difficult when our residents bring them with them to the home anyway. They’re not shut away in a special room.
I mean things like vases, footstools, pictures, a china cabinet, books and bookcases, a lovely big old-fashioned mixing bowl in the kitchen, and much more. Some of the residents who brought these things have died now but we remember who brought what, and it’s nice to have them around and ‘reminisce’. Sometimes we have to gently turn down an offer.
And as to sensory rooms? Shouldn’t every room be a sensory room? Especially people’s bedrooms and bathrooms.