Considerable consideration should be placed on the environment which people with Alzheimer’s, and other forms of Dementia, find themselves in. Here, we regard their environment as all immediate environs surrounding them that provide sensory stimulation, from their bedroom to their bathroom, from the kitchen to the lounge to the gardens to the tea garden, etc. Taking into account the way people with forms of Dementia interact with their environmental stimulation, we can form two robust groups:

1. Those who are still able to function in their environment relatively well, with the ability to perceive the sensory information that surrounds them, interpret and interact accordingly with it.

2. Those who are no longer able or only slightly able to function in their environment, no longer or hardly able to perceive the sensory information that surrounds them and no longer or hardly able to interpret and interact with that information.

As the disease progresses within the person, the person will most likely decline from group one to group two. But it should also be noted that it is very possible for medication and it’s drastic effects to drag a person from the first group into the second, rather abruptly. Upon the gradual alleviation and/or complete omission of such drugs, it is possible for an individual to shift back, from group two to group one. This cognitive improvement is a matter we, the Jura Care Team, have witnessed with individuals living at the Jura Care Village, respectively.

Studies show that a prolonged exposure to an enriching and stimulating environment can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s in the brain. (View Study) The study states that an environment that provides sufficient stimulation helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease from weakening communication within the brain’s memory center, which is responsible for short- and long-term memory. This is a very promising study backed by research, one that should encourage care homes to evaluate the adequacy of the environments they expose their residents to. Let us have a look at various environmental stimuli:

  • The Jura Care Village is very fortunate to be positioned in such a stimulating environment in terms of natural beauty. This is an environmental aspect which impacts our residents very intrinsically, and allows for stimulation that could very well be described in philosophical terms.

View from the Jura Care Village

  • If you walk into a hospital and thereafter walk into someone’s home, there is a large difference between the two. I don’t know of anyone who would want to live in a hospital, they are impersonal and cold, far from the likes of comfort within ones home. That is why the Jura Care Home mirrors the familiar environment our residents are comfortable not only on a physical basis but also in terms of functionality. Ex, our residents aren’t used to having lunch or dinner in a cafeteria with twenty other people. They are used to eating privately with no more than a few other people. Which is why smaller dinning areas are far more stimulating and comforting. It’s these finer practicalities that have a fundamental impact on the resident’s overall stimulation.
  • The furniture in the Jura Care Home is antique. Why? Because our residents too, are antiques. They recognize the furniture, which acts to emphasize their comfort. They often reminisce over the various antiques found within and around the home, an opportunity to engage in meaningful memory and conversation with them.
  • Music is often used in the Jura Care Home, especially in the mornings, which floods the entire home with life and a sense of joy and excitement. Occasionally we have residents who come singing out of their rooms, other times we have to bully them gently out of; their rooms, and a depression, and into a new environment filled with joyous melody. Other times, the residents start dancing with one another, spreading their contagious happiness. The impact of music on our residents is nothing short of inspirational, lifting them up, perhaps reminding them of something very important: They’re alive!
  • Animals are very valuable resources when it comes to sensory stimulation, from dogs, cats to lambs and birds, each has a different range of stimulation.
  • Activities are fundamental in the care of our residents, from walking to dominoes to washing dishes, from bird watching to watching the 2015 rugby world cup. (Go Bokke!)

Playing their favorite game of Dominoes

  • It can be said with confidence that one of the most important aspects of environmental stimulation received is from the carers, thus it is of utmost importance that the carers are healthy, both psychologically and physiologically, emotionally stable and have a large capacity and inclination towards compassion and love. The importance of quality carers cannot be overstated.
  • Purpose is another important source of stimulation picked up from the environment. ‘Where do I belong?’ By understanding the resident’s history, we can create potential triggers within their environment that can provide them with a sense of purpose. Ex, one of our residents think they are staying with us to help us care for the other residents and so we ask him for help from time to time, which serves to reinforce his sense of purpose.

Resident playing the piano for a few moments

But what about environmental stimuli for the second group of people? This group receives environmental stimulation much less frequently than the first group. Does that mean that all hope of stimulation is lost. No, here is where stimuli move over to subtle side, meaning that instead of listening and dancing to the music, they may hear a note here or there, picking up on facial expressions, voice tone, touch and emotions. They may no longer be capable of comprehending spoken language, but they still understand the warmth of a hug, the excitement and motivation from carers when they encourage you to get out of bed or to walk again! Thus their stimulation rests largely with emotional stimulation; love, comfort, and more love. Soon, the Jura Care Village will be opening our very own ‘Sensory Stimulation Room’ designed specifically for these residents; with light, sound, texture and color stimulation that allows for therapeutic care.

It should be emphasized that the people from the second group are not brain-dead, they are still capable of receiving sensory input. Perhaps we should look towards animals, especially horses. Most of us have heard: “They can feel your fear.” or something similar. Well, they can, but they also know when you are happy, excited and loving. So too, the residents from group two are somehow capable of picking up on your emotional expression towards them. Thus it is important for you, as carer, visitor and/or family member to be aware of your emotional state when being with them, because they can feel you.