Community and Connection

PICU Sensory Room

A sensory room to reduce distress for those in psychiatric intensive care units

Recent studies in Sweden show that use of a sensory room can help reduce distress and agitation among psychiatric patients, particularly those admitted to psychiatric intensive care units (PICUs).

Stimulation is delivered via sight, smell, sound, touch and taste in a soothing environment that is controlled by the patient, in contrast to wards, which can feel restrictive, noisy and confusing. Use of a sensory room can also help reduce rates of seclusion and restraint.

Becky Davies, Senior Occupational Therapist on the female PICU, Eileen Skellern 1, at the South London and Maudsley Hospital (SLaM), and Ward Manager Ronnie Adeduro, were keen to explore these new findings. Thanks to your donations and a grant of £19,000 from the Maudsley Charity, staff have been able to transform an old room on the ES1 ward into a sensory space.

A calm, relaxing space

‘I’ve worked with people with sensory needs before.  I’ve really seen the benefits for people who are highly disturbed,’ explains Becky. ‘What we’ve created here is a calming and relaxing space for the ladies on the ward.’

‘We were short of options when it came to de-escalating patients,’ adds Ronnie. ‘And we had nowhere to give them to go to be alone except their bedroom. Patients perceived this as punishment although this was not the intention.’

Along with bean bag seating, the room has a projector which displays soothing scenes on a wall – beach, water, countryside – accompanied by calming music.

Two rainbow light bars change the colour of the room at the touch of a button. There’s also a fibre optic cloud, a water bubble tube, liquid floor tiles and a padded wall that patients can punched to de-stress.

Essential oils can be used to stimulate the olfactory senses and there are other items designed for visual stimulation.

Becky explains, ‘Blues and greens are relaxing colours but it’s a personal thing. Patients can choose their favourite colour, their favourite scene, their favourite smell and their favourite music and tailor it to their own tastes.’

"It's a place that relaxes you to the optimum level."

Service user

Safety in mind

To create the room, the Maudsley team worked with Mike Ayres Design, a company which specialises in creating safe, sensory environments, so it’s been set up with health and safety as a priority.  Although the room is mainly for supervised use, patients can use the facility on their own. The hope is that in time patients will ask for the room when they need it and that it will become an alternative to using medications, restraints and seclusion.

Lead PICU Consultant Dr Faisal Sethi says, ‘Restraints with medication happen on a regular basis.  Some of the most vulnerable, unwell and the most risky patients are cared for in a PICU.

‘Having something new is getting us to think differently. We’re used to thinking about restrictive interventions and this is a new, innovative alternative. It’s giving us the opportunity to develop better care plans around managing acute disorder and disturbance in a more patient-centred way.

‘We have 10 very different patients on the ward with different needs,’ Dr Sethi explains.  ‘All patients want to feel that their treatment plan is about them and not just something blanket. The more choices we have in terms of offering the whole spectrum of interventions, the more we can create individual care plans.’

Over 100 acute patients each year will benefit

The 10-bed ward is constantly at capacity with most patients staying for about one month, so over the course of a year more than 100 people will benefit from the room. Becky and Ronnie have trained the ward’s permanent staff to use the room safely and confidently, so it will be available pretty much all day, every day.

It can be used for individual and group sessions of up to a maximum of four patients. This ensures the space stays therapeutic and doesn’t get too crowded.

Positive feedback from patients and awards

Feedback following the launch has been extremely positive. One patient says, ‘the sensory room is a place to just be’.

Occupational therapist Rebecca Davies adds:  ‘The sensory room has had a positive reception from both staff and patients since it opened. Patients have reported feeling more relaxed after using the room. The relaxation group has also been very successful with patients saying they like the opportunity to spend time in a peaceful space away from the main ward environment.’

PICU Sensory room award
The room won the Project of the Year award at the Design in Mental Health Awards 2018

The room was awarded a Design in Mental Health award in 2018: it was in the Project of the Year category, which recognises projects which demonstrate innovation, creativity and excellent team working.

Senior Occupational Therapist on the PICU, Rebecca Davies, said: “The ES1 team are extremely proud of our sensory room and the therapeutic benefits it has brought to the ward.

“Patients and staff have reported how they feel the sensory room is a relaxing, calming and interactive space that provides opportunity to self-manage emotions and reduce agitation.

“ES1 are extremely grateful to the Maudsley Charity for funding the project and to Mike Ayres Design for creating and installing the room. Winning this award means so much to the team and we are so grateful to all those involved in supporting the sensory room project to go ahead.”