Employee Awards and Accolades

Home's space remade into "Sensory Room"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Residents at Stairways Behavioral Health’s Personal Care Home were greeted to perceptible changes upon entering the West 8th Street building’s recreation room one day in late September.

And that was entirely the objective when the space received a comprehensive makeover in the creation of the “Sensory Room,” an area where clients can use sensory input to attain a state of self-regulation.

The room seeks to achieve this state by using objects that elicit responses from all senses in hopes of appropriately calming or stimulating depending on the situation.

The idea of the sensory room at PCH was conceived and implemented by Jessica Hull and Lydia Altimus, two occupational therapy students at Gannon University interning at Stairways within the Psychiatric Rehabilitation program.

“We had read some research articles about the effectiveness of sensory rooms on inpatient units in self-regulation,” Altimus said. “The theory behind the Sensory Room is that they have the ability to regulate relaxation and sensory modulation.”

Hull and Altimus, along with Christine Linkie, director of Psych Rehab services, and Heather Filson, PCH director, took the idea to a receptive group of clients who voiced their support for the sensory room.

Filson said the room was discussed among clients in PCH’s Residents’ Council and was met with enthusiasm.

“Several of the clients were very excited,” Filson said. “I really think it will be beneficial for those who are residents. We have 38 people living (here) and each one has their own unique needs for sensory modulation and we hope the room will meet them for everyone.”

Thanks to Stairways’ Client Wellness Fund, Hull and Altimus were able to personally stock the room with items that encourage self-regulation and paint its walls in a soothing shade of green that changes along with the natural light throughout the day.

A weighted blanket creates a natural calming effect for its wearers. Tactile objects, such as soft upholstery covers and Play-Doh promote varying levels of stimulation. A variety of hard and soft candies are available for oral stimulation, which helps bring about relaxation, while scented oils and other aromatic substances, including fresh coffee each morning, affect the olfactory receptors in different ways.

In addition to raising awareness about their sensory input, the sensory room also promotes greater interaction among residents. Hull and Altimus introduced activities likely to spur collaborative participation such as jewelry-making and group sewing and rearranged the furniture in a way more conducive to increased socialization.

“We knew that if we rearranged the TV, and depending on how the furniture was arranged, people would be more likely to participate in other activities,” Hull said.

The concept of what we take in through our senses and how we respond to the input they provide us is one that could provide greater insight into how we are affected by what we perceive in everyday life.

“I think what’s becoming more common is our understanding of how our senses impact mental health,” Linkie said.

Something the sensory room is bringing to the forefront.

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