Activity Professionals of Ontario Conference and Sensory Experiences

As an Occupational Therapist and Multi-Sensory Environment Practitioner, it is rare that I get an opportunity to meet a group of professionals that will burst into song and light up my life, but that is what happened at the APO “Unique and United” Conference on October 20-22, 2010. Just as I was demonstrating the process of changing level of “arousal” with visual effects and music and how the brain will respond, this wonderful group (as if their nervous systems had been pre-programmed) broke into song. Their brains spontaneously “got it”; their unconscious minds put together instrumental music (not orchestrated in original recording) and they sang. It was a perfect example of the manipulation of controlled sensory input, using music (auditory), moving abstract visual lighting effects up and down and slowly around the room (getting head & neck movement (vestibular)) similar to you watching a fireworks display or the stars at night. This process of changing arousal to a generalized (balanced) level allowed for focus and calm leading to experiencing joy, pleasure and the spontaneous activity of singing. Oh, I only wish I was able to film it! Why am I so excited? Because activity and engagement based on pleasure is our goal. We shared a process together; meaningful and memorable to me. The Dynamic Process that led to this activity and participation without verbal directions was as follows:

1.The overhead lighting using a dimmer switch was controlled and adjusted slowly lower as one piece of equipment was turned on (ideally a sequence of lowering lights and turning on one piece of equipment at a time would be done in an actual room, allowing more time for adjustment)

2.I projected a visual abstract effect on the wall about eye level because that is where the audience would visually see it without moving their heads. (For clients I start where they are looking, often the floor to low wall.) Using abstract wheels avoids the potential to make a negative recall of a memory, reality wheels can, through association or symbolism, trigger a negative memory.

3.Music was started on a very low volume and raised very slowly as the projector was moved slowly up the wall to the ceiling, brought down on an angle and then rotated to one side then the other, all the while the audience followed the lights (head & neck movement, vestibular input.) Music was changed using different tempos to change arousal levels, from slow to faster, to motivate up the arousal/excitement continuum.

4.As I observed the audience respond with unconscious movement (proprioceptive input) to the music tempo & rhythm by tapping feet, shaking ankles, bobbing heads and tapping fingers, I knew I was engaging them.

5.The “smiles” came out next indicating to me, I was achieving pleasure and focus, and spontaneous singing erupted. The group had been “primed” through the senses and motivated to act and to my surprise they acted in unison. What is significant is when the “activity” was pleasurable and “meaningful” it brought about a behavioral response, to be engaged.

We can draw some parallels between the keynote speaker Carol Ann Fried; who discussed that there are “nine times more negative thoughts as there are positive” in one’s mind. This is why we want to use music and effects wheels that will not bring about a bad memory, but bring about only positive happy memories. Also, Gail Elliot who discussed “A Focus on Montessori for Dementia”, one of the principles of Montessori is “Learning takes place through the senses” and how to get “responsive behaviors” from individuals. Well, the Multi-sensory Environment approach does both. The difficulty is that when a person with Dementia seems no longer assessable through normal means and other approaches seem elusive what is meaningful and engaging will be communicated through the sensory channels that that individual has used and loved through their life’s experience and journey. Go ahead, and go on a wonderful journey..

© Linda Messbauer, October 2010