Snoezelen Therapy in Alzheimer's Disease

A Multi-Sensory Approach to Treatment

Snoezelen therapy provides sensory stimulation using light, sound, scents, and music to have both relaxing and activating effects that promote well-being. It is believed to be helpful for people with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, autism and other developmental disorders, and brain injuries.

Snoezelen therapy was developed in the Netherlands in the 1970s by institutions caring for people with severe disabilities. The word "snoezelen" (pronounced SNOO-zeh-lehn) is a contraction for the Dutch words for sniffing out or exploring (snuffelen) and dozing (doezelen).

Snoezelen rooms are sometimes called multi-sensory stimulation rooms. They are especially common in Germany, but some nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Canada and the United States have them.

This article explores how snoezelen is used and what the therapy rooms are like.

Bubbles, sometimes one component of Snoezelen Therapy
Sabrina Bekeschus Monteiro / EyeEm / Getty Images

Snoezelen Room Features

One description of a snoezelen room refers to "glow-in-the-dark stars shining faintly," "colored bubbles rising in a tall lighted column before a mirror," and "fiber-optic strands winking orange, yellow, and rice-white."

Floors of snoezelen rooms may be adjustable to stimulate the sense of balance. All snoezelen rooms are structured environments.

Other features may include:

  • Touch, sound, and light boards
  • Colored LED room lights
  • A projector and color wheel to display images, usually pictures, across the ceiling and walls

One disadvantage to snoezelen therapy is its cost. The rooms are expensive to set up, and cost approximately $10,000 to $30,000.

How This Therapy Is Used

The time a patient spends in a snoezelen room can vary. Some facilities allow patients to visit a snoezelen room as they wish. Others have short daily sessions, one on one or in a small group, with a recreational therapist. These therapists help promote wellbeing through recreational activities.

Alzheimer's and Dementia

One small study found that a short snoezelen therapy session, lasting 15 to 30 minutes, was helpful for people with dementia. It decreased restlessness and the tendency to wander in the hours afterward.

While not a cure for Alzheimer's and other dementias by any means, snoezelen may help promote well-being, particularly for those with late-stage dementia who wander, experience sundowning (increased anxiety and restlessness in late afternoon and evening), and are agitated. The evidence base for snoezelen therapy for dementia-related agitation is reasonably good, showing positive short-term benefits in many cases.

A 2008 review article that summarized evidence for many non-medication strategies in dementia found that the evidence supporting snoezelen therapy was comparable to the evidence supporting music therapy, behavioral management therapy, and staff training/education.

A 2015 comparison study found that both "common best practices" and snoezelen therapy were approximately equally helpful in reducing challenging behaviors among individuals with dementia.

However, not all research has shown a clear benefit. For example, there is preliminary research that suggests indoor gardens may be more helpful than snoezelen therapy. A study exposed individuals with advanced dementia to 15 minutes twice a week either in an indoor Japanese garden or snoezelen room.

Those who spent time in the garden had lower heart rates and positive behavioral changes whereas there was little or no change, on average, for the patients who visited the snoezelen room. More research is needed to figure out how to best use different types of rooms and therapies.

Other Uses

Preliminary research on the use of snoezelen for those with autism suggests that snoezelen sessions may offer a range of calming effects and reductions in repetitive behaviors.

Research also suggests that when a person with autism has control over the sensory equipment and can adjust it during the experience, it can better satisfy their needs.

Studies on snoezelen's use for those with severe brain injuries have shown potential reductions in agitation and calming brain changes. However, the studies are small and more research is needed.

Summary

Snoezelen rooms are designed to provide sensory stimulation in a way that's relaxing and soothing to those with Alzheimer's or other dementias. They are also sometimes used for individuals with autism or brain injuries.

They may be particularly helpful for those with agitation and/or wandering or repetitive behaviors.

A Word From Verywell

If you have a loved one with dementia, ask if there are any snoezelen rooms available as part of their care. You may want to explore this therapy to see if they find the sensory experience calming and comforting and/or if it there are behavior improvements afterward.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Andrew Rosenzweig, MD
Andrew Rosenzweig, MD, MPH, is an Alzheimer's disease expert and the chief clinical officer for MedOptions.