Sunday 17 November 2013

Sensory lighting and mood effects for dementia

Why now is a good time to create a sensory room...

We know about the use of sensory rooms for children with special needs - however, such sensory rooms are also useful for people living with dementia.

There is a whole host of different products available, which can be used to create your very own sensory room. I’m currently trying out a number of products to create such a room for Mum, in her own bedroom.

Mood DVDs

A simple and easy start is to purchase one of the many mood DVDs available. These provide a variety of calming videos, combined with either natural sounds or music, or in some cases, both, and help set the mood. There are a variety of scenes available, from a crackling fire, mountain creek, waves lapping on a beach, tropical aquarium, waterfalls and even fireworks. The key aspect is the combination of calming scenes along with appropriate music.There are even DVDs available for a specific time of the year – Christmas – with seasonal scenes and Christmas carols and music.

Two DVDs, specially developed to help relax children and adults with a range of conditions including dementia, Alzheimer's, autism and Down's syndrome, are available here

Mood and relaxation CDs are also available, these of course don’t offer the visual stimulation provided by the DVDs.

Colour change lighting

You could consider colour changing mood lighting. A variety of LED bulbs are available, some with remote controls, to change the colour sequences and to brighten or dim the light. Once again, these can be used in conjunction with music to create a calming effect, and also in conjunction with other forms of visual stimulation. At this time of year, take the opportunity to look out for colour changing Christmas lights and decorations.

Image projection

Aside from the classic rotating mirror ball scattering a myriad of moving points of light around a room, there are a number of different projection devices available, one of the most common being the home planetarium. Unfortunately some of these devices are not quite as good as they at first appear. The image is often blurred, and the room has to be quite dark for the effect to be fully appreciated.

There are, however, other devices, that are not planetariums in the true sense, but produce an effect similar to the night sky, with moving stars, shooting stars and cloud nebulae - others re-create the effect of light under water refracted by the gentle waves on the surface, and some even play sounds or music. These devices vary considerably in price, and even some of the more expensive ones, are not that good.

I've now received the Laser Twilight projector (as seen in the photo above), and have had a chance to try it out. Being a Class 1 laser product, the green "stars" are quite bright, and are clearly visible in daylight, the blue "cloud nebula", is a little dimmer, but still visible under ambient light. The "stars" move around in different directions, some moving faster than others, and the "cloud nebula" shimmers, and changes shape. The "stars" and "cloud nebula" can be displayed together, or independently. If this is the type of effect you'd like to achieve, then I would recommend the Laser Twighlight.

Daylight lighting

Many people suffer from Seasonally Affective Disorder (SAD), and the same can be true for those living with dementia. Full spectrum lighting is a great way to help combat such disorders, and although some SAD lighting can be quite expensive, it is also possible to adapt a fairly standard light fitting - with the use of full spectrum bulbs or tubes (search for “full spectrum” lighting instead of SAD lighting). The use of full spectrum lighting can help restore a person’s natural Circadian rhythm.

For Mum, I’m currently using a small, multi-LED full spectrum light, that clips to her bed – it is low voltage, does not get hot, and is therefore safe. Full spectrum lighting is not just beneficial to humans - as the keeper of both a budgie and a small parrot - I also use avian full spectrum lighting for my birds.


Smell is one of the senses often forgotten when we think of a sensory environment, yet it is just as important as the other senses when it comes to the sense of wellbeing. I am not of course advocating that we use a plethora of scented tea-lights, and all the dangers they entail. There are, however, small battery operated tea-lights, which give the effect of real candles. These, used in conjunction with plug-in or automated spray fresheners, or scented potpourri, can create the same effect, and are much safer.

As with everything else, experiment. Older people may find comfort in smells from their past, when they were young, or when they were children – from the smell of rose water to carbolic, from lavender bouquets to mothballs, even the smell of a newly extinguished match – any of these, and many more, may help re-awaken long forgotten memories.

Other lighting and sensory ideas

There are of course many different forms of lighting that can help with visual stimulation, the classic lava lamp, colour changing bubble tubes and glitter candles, colour changing LED and fibre-optic trees and rope lights, are just a few.

In Mum’s room, there is a gantry hoist – one of the upright supports has had artificial ivy trailed up it, to break-up the solid, uncompromising appearance of the support. At Christmas, artificial fir garlands and lights are added, the support, becomes a Christmas tree.

Whichever way you choose to create a sensory room, the key word is experimentation. Not all of these devices and solutions will work for everyone - it is simply a case of trying different ideas until you find the ones that work.

In the run-up to Christmas, a much wider range of colour changing lights and sensory devices become readily available, so Christmas time is the ideal time for experimentation – after all, if they don’t work for the person they are intended for, they can still be used as Christmas decorations.

For Mum, and for me, it is relatively easy, as I know the type of music she likes, and that she likes colourful lighting, and watching scenes that are calming and relaxing. As I write this, she is listening to the classical music tracks accompanying scenes of tropical fish swimming in an aquarium.

Just found these too...

I've just discovered some USB speakers, ideal for use with iPods, MP3 players, tablets and laptops, although with a little technical know-how, they can also be connected to TVs, DVD and Blue-Ray players. They're ideal when used in conjunction with music. When in use, the speakers create illuminated jets of water in time with the music - yet another wonderful sensory experience.

Latest products tested (added 5 April 2014)...

As this is an on going project, I'm always on the look out for new sensory ideas, the latest are two more lighting effects.

The first is an LED Crystal Ball, it has powerful LEDs and through the faceted clear plastic dome, the coloured light is scattered up the wall and over the ceiling. The ball can be set to seven different automatic displays, with speed adjustments, and two different sound activated displays to use when playing music. There are three models available, one three colour RGB, one is seven colour, and one that is also an mp3 player, using a USB stick or an SD card. The LEDs are bright enough to be seen in a well lit room. Compact in size, it measures just 19.5x19.5x19 centimetres.
The second is a small, two colour, red and green, laser projector. This projects hundreds of laser "stars" in ever changing patterns, complete with a speed adjustment for the pattern changes. This particular laser projector is also quite bright, and can be used quite successfully in a well lit room. As with the LED Crystal Ball, the laser projector also has a sound activated mode, and responds well to music. Its compact size measures just 13x9.2x5.2 centimetres.
Both the LED Crystal Ball and the laser projector can be purchased in the UK for less than £20 each.


  1. Some great ideas there... (I wouldn't mind getting some of those effects for myself - just for enjoyment rather than medical/dementia need. I used to fancy buying a lava lamp but never got around to it - that Laser Twilight projector is something I would be interested in, for sure.)

  2. A great company that sells fiber optic sensory therapy products is Unlimited Light. All of their sensory products are toy and child tested and regularly certified by Intertek to meet the Consumer Product Safety Commision acts. This means they are safe and phthalate free.

  3. I didn't know that there were sensory lighting rooms used to help people with dementia. Mother is afflicted with dementia. She still has a few years left in her, so I want to help her in any way I can. Mother has always been one for lava lamps, even though she's never owned one. I think that's something she might like. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so the daylight light bulb might help the both of us. Thanks for the post!

    Bill Li |!dementia-and-alzheimers-care/c13jp

  4. Great for you to get the word out there about the positive impact of Multi Sensory Rooms (MRS). We have seen many positive impacts from many of our products. Great Job!