The Multisensory Environment (MSE) in Dementia Care: Examining Its Role and Quality From a User Perspective

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Background:Multisensory environments (MSEs) for people with dementia have been available over 20 years but are used in an ad hoc manner using an eclectic range of equipment. Care homes have endeavored to utilize this approach but have struggled to find a design and approach that works for this setting.Aims:Study aims were to appraise the evolving concept of MSEs from a user perspective, to study the aesthetic and functional qualities, to identify barriers to staff engagement with a sensory environment approach, and to identify design criteria to improve the potential of MSE for people with dementia.Methods:Data were collected from 16 care homes with experience of MSE using ethnographic methods, incorporating semi-structured interviews, and observations of MSE design. Analysis was undertaken using descriptive statistics and thematic analysis.Results:Observations revealed equipment that predominantly stimulated vision and touch. Thematic analysis of the semi-structured interviews revealed six themes: not knowing what to do in the room, good for people in the later stages of the disease, reduces anxiety, it’s a good activity, design and setting up of the space, and including relatives and care staff.Conclusion:Few MSEs in care homes are designed to meet needs of people with dementia, and staff receive little training in how to facilitate sessions. As such, MSEs are often underused despite perceived benefits. Results of this study have been used to identify the design principles that have been reviewed by relevant stakeholders.

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