Meet Emily—Our New Director of Life Enrichment, Certified Recreational Therapist and Specially Trained in Snoezelen

Emily Aguilar has joined our Residences at Deer Creek Leadership Team bringing much professional expertise. She is working with staff to create the very best programs for residents in our Assisted Living community as well as in Memory Care.  Emily is a certified recreational therapist.  Her perspective is focused on how to accommodate the need of every resident to live his or her optimal life. She explains that because there are different needs, whatever we do is designed to engage and stimulate, being careful not to frustrate.  

While residents in assisted living and in Memory Care share the same need to participate as fully as possible in daily living, it’s how this is accomplished that is the challenge.  Every month Emily publishes the two calendars, one for each neighborhood, so that residents and families may choose and participate in activities. Our residents and their families enjoy the beautiful and safe environment here at RDC; it’s an expectation. Of utmost importance to them is senior lifestyle—living as independently as one is able, and participating in all the ways that bring joy to living each day. Next comes the implementation—ensuring her team is equipped and has the equipment to work directly with groups and with individuals within the groups of each community.  

Emily is also a skillful manager. Upon obtaining her degree and certification at Illinois State University,, Emily was hired by the Northwest Special Recreation Association—the sole organization in the state—as Manager of Athletics. At Northwest she quickly progressed to Program Development as Inclusion Development Manager supervising support staff in 17 Northwest Park Districts. She found opportunity to once again work with older adults, much as she had during college internships at assisted living facilities, where she said she “fell in love” with this population. 

Emily recently celebrated a May wedding and the couple decided to relocate to Dyer to be closer to family. Residences at Deer Creek is the perfect match for her personality, dedication to seniors living their optimal lives, and advance her career. 

The Snoezelen® Room here at Residences at Deer Creek and at our sister facility, Residences at Coffee Creek in Chesterton, is one of our unique approaches to supporting residents in Memory Care who have cognitive limitations. Emily is also unique in her experience, working with those who benefit from Snoezelen®, as well as training others, which is one of her goals. 

Exactly what is Snoezelen® and what does it mean? If you’re wondering about the word itself, it’s actually a contraction of Dutch verbs “snuffelen”—to seek and explore, and “doezelen” –to relax. It was  created by the two Dutch geniuses Jan Hulsegge and Ad Veheul who began experiments in the late ‘70’s with a goal of increasing enjoyment and sensory experiences for those with intellect disabilities. They used a tent loaded with different lights, sounds, items to touch, and recorded their observations.  They observed an “overwhelmingly positive result” of participants in the one-week fair, of those who were both verbal and non-verbal.   

They pursued this concept of sensory therapy and since the past few decades some 40 settings exist around the world. It’s an interesting evolution with hundreds of studies, available on the Snoezelen® website.

Thanks to the support of Residences Senior Living physician owners, we are proud to be a Snoezelen® site, bringing this therapeutic opportunity to Northwest Indiana.  Voted Best in Senior Living and Memory Care is due in part to our advanced endeavors in our environments as well as our ability to attract professionals like Emily who have so much to contribute.  

Thankfully Snoezelen® has advanced from tents to rooms. Our Memory Care was designed to accommodate Snoezelen ® modalities so that we could create the environment for which it is intended.  The meaning of the word is important because this is what Snoezelen® means to our staff, residents, and families: 

Snoezelen® environments use sensory stimulation to ironically accomplish two seemingly opposite behavioral  goals—to stimulate the senses and individual, either raising awareness or creating the sense of calmness achieved through using the same modalities. 

 In other words, when staff observes a resident is struggling with agitation, restlessness, anxiety and over-stimulation, there is a soothing quality achieved with specially-developed light and sound experiences in the Snoezelen® Room that distract attention to the anxious feelings. This is especially effective therapy for those who suffer Sundowners Syndrome, reversing sleep patterns from night to day, causing pacing and over-stimulation. Restlessness replaced by relaxation. 

Those residents who display boredom, have a cognitive inability to participate in many activities, appear depressed or sad, benefit from the same modalities but in a different way. The lights and sounds and touch actually attract their attention similarly, but the brain’s stimulation serves to raise and increase awareness and alertness.   

What’s in the name “Snoezelen®”?  A perfect description of the sensations, seeking to explore and seeking to relax!  

Emily’s expertise in Recreational Therapy coupled with Snoezelen® sensory therapeutics helps all to understand more about their combined value. We know that dementia in its various forms interrupts the brain’s functioning causing problems with thinking, mood, behavior, and ability to take part in daily activities and consequently, leisure.  These limitations often lead to people having nothing to do, leading to frustration, boredom, hopelessness and isolation. Senior living offers  much in life enrichment programs to prevent the progression of these feelings which often lead to ill physical health; the mind/body connection.  

 Choosing the best activity, according to Emily and other peer professionals, is best achieved by finding out a persons’ interest and previous accomplishments, working with family as well as the resident.  Using sensory modalities seems to reawaken the brain’s ability to associate with those tasks.  

What’s in a Snoezelen® Room? 

There’s always comfortable seating; sofa, loveseat, chair—familiar furnishings. Lighting is dim to enhance the fiber optic tubes of light that change color when the oversized buttons on the console are pushed—by the resident! Tubes vibrate; you can sit next to them and touch and explore with your hands. There’s a panel of lights on a board mounted to the wall. These change color as well, according to the pushed button. Vibrant colors—magentas, peacock blues, emerald green, bright yellows and more are captivating, especially as they change from one to another. Optics in the tubes move up and down, visual motion!  Strategically placed behind the chair is a cascade of fiber optic tubes that resemble a spaghetti  light show. As these drape around the individual who is totally captivated by the sight and feel and impulse to comb fingers through them, it becomes evident that behavioral change is occurring. 

Seated on the sofa, the adjacent wall features soothing images of nature and landscapes, some with woodland animals or birds flying, that are projected and rotated in a soothing circular fashion. These can also be used to stimulate by having the resident stand closer and use arms and hands to reach and trace the movement. Aroma therapy diffused within the Room is also used to soothe or stimulate.  

Human brains are amazing vital organs. So much research over the past decade has revealed so much, but most importantly, it has revealed that we have yet to fully understand all that is possible for those living with dementia unless we try and try again, using all our resources, and expertly trained individuals such as Emily Nock to support the needs of our elderly. She said it best. “I always want to be doing something of value. If I can make others happy, I’m doing whatever that means in my life.”  Emily and everyone in Life Enrichment and every department at Residences Senior Living match live our philosophy every day—As people become older their desire for independence doesn’t change, but their care needs do. Residences Senior Living is committed to growing and changing to meet those needs through the latest methods such as Snoezelen® and the most important touch, that of  a caring hand.  

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Upcoming Events

  1. Residences at Coffee Creek Tours and Trees

    December 8 @ 2:30 pm - 6:00 pm
  2. Residences at Deer Creek Tours and Tinsel

    December 9 @ 2:30 pm - 6:00 pm