Sonas apc came into existence in 1990 as a way of helping older people, usually resident in nursing homes, who neither interacted nor communicated with each other, mainly due to dementia. From my background of 30 years in Speech and Language Therapy, I had the necessary knowledge to devise an approach based on sensory stimulation, quality engagement, structure and repetition as well as an emphasis on the importance of non-verbal communication facial expression, body language, tone of voice etc). The abbreviation of apc in the title stands for Activating Potential for Communication, meaning that the programme creates the conditions within which communication is likely to take place.
Training began with a Workshop in Dublin in 1991. The training included a Kit (audiotapes, booklet etc). Sonas could be used for small groups as well as individual sessions. It spread rapidly throughout Ireland just by word of mouth, followed by England, Scotland, the Channel Islands and further afield –this now includes Norway. It has been revised many times and is used in at least half the nursing homes in Ireland. Older people in their thousands have benefitted and 9,000 Practitioners have been trained to carry out the sessions.
I had arrived in Oslo on the 29th November 2021 where I had been invited to attend a ceremony the next day at which the first 16 staff were to receive their certificates and badges qualifying them to carry out Sonas Sessions in their nursing homes. The Sonas Programme, had been translated into Norwegian. It was brought to Norway by Benedicte Strom, herself Norwegian, who had worked as Director of Nursing at the St. Josephs Nursing Home in Mount Sackville, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny.
Benedicte could see the potential of the Programme for residents living with dementia, so when she got the opportunity to return to Oslo as a student, she completed a PhD to explore its benefits. She got permission from Engaging Dementia (formerly Sonas apc) to translate it into Norwegian and established a training course for staff working in a service run by the Lutheran church called Diakonjemmet. As Founder of Sonas apc, I was invited to attend, along with the CEO of Engaging Dementia. We had been taking part in regular meetings on Zoom as part of the development of Sonas in Norway. These will continue.
When we arrived in the Sagenehlemmet nursing home that morning we watched newly trained staff carrying out part of a session, we had a light lunch before being brought on a tour of the nursing home, and then we assembled for the ceremony. There were some speeches before and after the presentation of certificates and we finished with coffee and a cake decorated with the Sonas logo.
Maria Karlsson, a Health Professional working in a Nursing home in Norway had the following to say about her experience of the Sonas Programme “Sonas has reminded me how important it is to use the senses in contact with people with dementia. It is amazing to see how much response you can get by using the senses, whether it is music, taste experiences or smell; it is extra nice to be able to set aside an hour twice a week with the residents where we only concentrate on creating quality time for them”.
Everybody we met in Oslo was hugely excited that we had travelled to Norway to be at the presentation, so we got a great welcome wherever we went. We were pleased to have made the acquaintance of a researcher attached to the organization who will continue to carry out research on Sonas as it becomes established. We stayed for three nights at a hotel in Oslo.
After the evening meal in a traditional Norwegian restaurant, the Director of Diakonjemmet, Helle Gjetrang made us a presentation of a specially crafted bowl which had a crack but which was repaired according to a Japanese art form called KintSugi “where cracks and breaches in ceramic works are glued along with gold or silver. The philosophy is that the repaired bowl is both stronger and more beautiful than the original, precisely because the vulnerability is visible”. Helle added that this represents Sonas, where the person with dementia has experienced brokenness and a disconnection which Sonas helps to heal.
When Sonas was introduced in 1990 it was like a tiny seed which in thirty years has grown beyond anybody’s expectation. This surprising expansion of the programme includes its arrival in Norway in 2021.