Background to the use of Sensory Rooms within Mental Health
Over the past few years we've seen a large increase in the number of enquiries from both NHS and private hospital groups wanting advice and guidance into designing a sensory room for in-patients receiving Mental Health care.
Quite often, experienced Occupational Therapists express the need for a calming and safe space for patient de-escalation. You can tell how much care and compassion these professionals have in their wish to explore alternative ways to help prevent and control the anxious or aggressive behaviour of their patients.
Over recent years, there has been increasing focus around the use of sensory stimulus to help with the behavioural and emotional regulation of adults receiving mental health care. This comes at a time where international policies have aimed to reduce the use of traditional restrictive interventions in response to behavioural episodes, and instead improve the effectiveness of exploring the use of de-escalation techniques. This has given rise to an increased interest in the use of sensory rooms within Mental Health care settings.
The study, 'Sensory approaches in mental health: A scoping review', explains:
"Sensory approaches in mental health are designed to assist consumers to regulate physiological and emotional arousal. They have been highlighted as non-invasive, self-directed and empowering interventions that may support recovery-oriented and trauma-informed mental health practice and may assist in efforts to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint."
An Australian study analysed the effectiveness of a project where a sensory room was designed and installed on a male adult acute psychiatric ward. Qualitative analysis in the form of staff interviews found that an increased awareness of sensory processing and implementation of sensory strategies, such as use of the sensory room, had a positive impact in reducing distress of the male service users. Interestingly, the sensory space also provided benefits for the staff by providing a quiet and calming area to support reflective learning during critical incident debriefing; further supporting the idea that sensory rooms are a great tool for promoting positive mood and de-escalation.
When designing a sensory room for use within a Mental Health care setting, special consideration is required in relation to patient safety, protection from risks of self-harm, room configuration and the selection of appropriate sensory equipment. To help you get started we have provided 7 tips to consider when initially planning a De-escalation Sensory Room within an in-patient unit. This is not an extensive list, but will help to get you started...
7 Key considerations for designing a De-escalation Sensory Room for Mental Health Acute, PICU, CAMHS and Secure Services
These points are:
- Wall & Floor Padding
- Robust Sensory Equipment / Robust Casing
- Sensory Room Configuration
- Decor, Colour and Lighting
Safety within a De-escalation Sensory Room
An essential factor to prioritise when designing the sensory space is user safety. Safety considerations and the level of input this requires will vary considerably depending on the intended user(s) and the care environment (Acute, PICU, CAMHS and Secure Services). Within Mental Health Care settings there is usually always a requirement to consider protection from risks of self-harm e.g. with anti-ligature set up and equipment.
Within low and medium secure wards, sensory rooms are usually designed to adhere to strict requirement policies, including guidance on anti-ligature specifications.
Other recommended considerations would include secure fastening of equipment using security screws and fixings; expertly-designed installation of equipment, power sockets and cables which is out of sight and reach of the user; and 'anti-pick' silicon for completeness. Power cables, sockets and light switches are often hidden and located outside of the de-escalation space.
The installation of padding is a very common feature within a de-escalation area, as will be reviewed next.
Wall & Floor Padding within a De-escalation Sensory Room
A highly recommended design feature for Sensory Rooms within a clinical secure environment is room safety padding.
An appropriate design consideration to create a safe space for use by patients who may have aggressive physical behaviour or are deemed to be high risk of self-harm. This is an ideal environment providing a safe space for patients to de-escalate. The padding can withstand physical force, whilst promoting patient safety from self-harm. Padding is available in a range of colours and can be a useful feature to help create a calming and positive sensory experience within the space.
Appropriate Sensory Equipment & Robust Casing within a De-escalation Sensory Room
Equipment choice is a key consideration when designing your sensory project. It is essential that equipment is appropriate and that you can incorporate equipment protection into your plan. It is essential that equipment choice and and design are considered when deciding on the sensory room contents.
Robust projector casing can provide a safe and secure way of including a sensory projector within a de-escalation sensory room environment. The robust casing is made from very durable polypropylene in order to withstand physical force, whilst the reinforced transparent viewing window enables the projector to illuminate the required viewing wall.
Equipment such as interactive wall panels and infinity tunnels can have robust boxing surrounds fitted to protect them, or they could be installed to sit within wall padding.
Unfortunately, sensory items such as bubble tubes, fibre optic strands and UV curtains are not usually deemed appropriate for installation within mental health care settings due to risks of self-harm; however a sensory expert will be able to advise on alternative sensory solutions and the sensory benefits they can achieve.
De-escalation Sensory Room Configuration
Planning your sensory room layout and configuration is essential. Design which is simple, clutter- free and carefully considered will help keep the project on track. It is important that you consider the sensory equipment which you are planning to install so that you can ensure the room configuration is appropriate.
Try to remember that the goal of the de-escalation room is to prevent escalation, or de-escalate, the patient. The sensory room is required to sooth and calm the individual, not necessarily to stimulate.
Relaxing lighting, calming music and vibration, soothing projection and mesmerizing infinity tunnels are ideal equipment choices for most de-escalation rooms.
The room configuration needs to very simple, safe and comfortable. It is usually advisable for equipment to be incorporated within padding. Equipment such as speakers and vibration equipment should ideally be installed out of reach of the user, and preferably be out of sight where possible.
If space is required to store additional equipment e.g. music amplifiers, it is possible to install a lockable padded storage system within the space.
Decor, Colour and Lighting within a De-escalation Sensory Room
Decor: De-escalation spaces within healthcare settings typically have a reputation of looking very 'clinical'- but it doesn't need to be this way. With careful and creative use of decor, the space can be completely transformed! For example, a feature wall comprising of a colourful mural can transform the room into a tranquil beach setting, a peaceful forest or a relaxing waterfall scene- the possibilities are endless! Decor is an extremely effective tool for helping positively effect mood and behaviour, promote focus and well-being; the perfect safe space for creating positive distraction and promoting de-escalation.
Sensory image projectors can also provide relaxing imagery as a great distraction. Projectors can include variable speed sensory wheel rotators so that the sensory images are adjustable to provide any desired effect and an ability to individualise the experience for each user.
The Vinyl used for wall and floor padding can be chosen to match and blend in with a theme or colour scheme. White, light grey or light blue walls and ceilings work really well. It has been found that quite often individuals will respond more positively and will form more of an attachment with a safe space if it is illuminated by a favourite or preferred colour.
Colour: Try to remember that the goal of the de-escalation room is to prevent escalation, and/or de-escalate, the user. The sensory room is required to sooth and calm the individual, not necessarily to stimulate. The colours used within a sensory room must be carefully considered as colours can be over-stimulating. It is best to keep colour scheme simple- neutral, cool and calm colours will be appropriate for creating a calming environment suitable for de-escalation. Greens, blues and purples tend to be very calming colours; whereas reds, oranges and yellows can be too stimulating.
Consider the intended plan for the sensory space- for example, if you plan to install a sensory projector, it is best to have plain walls to provide a blank canvas for beautiful clarity of the projections.
Lighting: Commonly, the intended room for installation of a sensory room within a Mental Health care setting is internal and therefore does not have an outside window. Lighting control is an important consideration for a sensory room, and in cases where there is no natural light source, artificial light can be used accordingly.
LED Skylight panels such as blue skies with white clouds can be fitted to promote positive mood, a feeling of well-being and relaxation. LED lighting inside secure profiling can also be used.
Sensory mood-lighting has been used in various studies with researchers unanimously agreeing that, when used correctly; various colours of light can positively influence people’s mood and attitude.
The sensory mood-lighting can help stimulate and balance the sensory system, particularly for those on the autistic spectrum.
Control within a De-escalation Sensory Room
De-escalation rooms need simple configuration and design which provides simple and easy operation and control by staff. It is important that staff can easily switch on and control various sensory equipment so that the sensory space is ready to use when needed. This can be achieved by utilising a grid switching system to enable different equipment to be switched on easily and quickly. Stimulation and sensory overload is to be avoided at all costs here- trained staff will be able to customise the calming de-escalation experience depending on the individual patient, and their requirements. In most cases, grid switches are either positioned outside of the sensory room or in a secure lockable cupboard.
In addition, equipment such as music and vibration platforms can be wireless-controlled or hard-wired to equipment such as tablet computers. Soothing music can be played and changed to meet the patients individual preference for maximised relaxation.
LED lighting can be controlled externally to change the colour and mood of the sensory environment.
Maintenance of a De-escalation Sensory Room
It is essential that your de-escalation space is designed to be low maintenance. A simple and considered configuration will enable care and maintenance staff to keep the de-escalation room hygienically clean and ready to use. All equipment must be easy to wipe-clean to promote user hygiene. All vinyl padding must also be wipe-clean and water-resistant to make the space suitable for individuals who may have behavioural problems.
As discussed previously, equipment should be hard-wearing and able to withstand physical force, wear and tear. If a modular layout is used, equipment and cables can usually be concealed and hidden- ensuring user safety and avoiding the need for costly repairs.
Our expert team are on-hand to offer free advice about De-escalation Sensory Room designs and sensory equipment choices to best suit your needs.
Sensorykraft offer a free and extensive consultation service which includes invaluable expert advice and support, a face-to-face consultation, 3D Room Designs and a detailed project proposal report.
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The Sensorykraft Team