A sensory room is a therapy space designed to stimulate the senses of people who have some neurological impairment or disorder. It is a controlled space where light, sound, texture and even color are manipulated to reach certain areas of the brain to calm, focus or awaken them. Sensory rooms use colors to acclimate patients to changing stimuli and to elicit predictable responses to certain colors. One way to conduct the therapy is to shift or change colors against a neutral background. You could adapt ideas from sensory rooms to children’s rooms or living areas in your own home.
Therapeutic Uses of a Sensory Room
The sensory room has been adapted for use in calming and retraining patients with an array of sensory disorders. The rooms have proven helpful for special-needs children, chronic pain management, dementia, adult psychiatry, adults with learning disabilities, traumatic brain injury, sensory integration disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, autism and stroke. Sensory room design ideas may be helpful home extensions of prescribed therapy. Colors are typically pale or white, and the rooms have black-out shades so that the visual stimulation can be completely controlled. But, since one purpose of the room is to create a high level of comfort and ease in the occupant, a sensory room may be any color that works for that purpose.
An all-white multi-sensory room allows the play of color as a calming and focusing treatment. Common equipment to create changing and moving color in a white sensory room might be fiber optic sprays that can be programmed to change color. A patient may hold the fiber optic stands, sit near them, experience them reflected and multiplied by mirrors or simply observe the patterns of light that changing colors make on the white walls. Other equipment, used in homes and in formal therapeutic settings, includes color-optic eggs, color-changing lava lamps, colored bubble lamps and sphere lamps that project changing colors or patterns on the walls and ceiling.
Blue has long been assumed to be a calming color, evoking a sense of expansive sky or the clear waters of a gentle bay or sea. Blue is a “cool” color, and some scientific experiments have shown that people in blue rooms perceive the temperature as lower than the identical temperature in red rooms. Pale blue is used in children’s bedrooms and nurseries to promote relaxation and restful sleep. But the relationship of colors to the mind is not clearly understood. In a sensory room, experimentation with what color evokes a response in the patient being treated would tailor the experience to the complex life experiences, associations and psychology of the patient.
Green is nature’s color, and pleasing shades of green have the same soothing effect on occupants of a room as pale blue shades do. Use nature to add green touches to a calming room by adding plants like large ferns or hanging spider plants, which help to refresh the air and are easy on the eye. In a room designed to be reassuring and calming, a lighter shade of green on the walls will seem to open the space and make it expansive. Pale green is also a neutral background for other stimuli you may choose to introduce in the room.
- The Royal College of Psychiatrists; Advances in Psychiatric Treatment; Multi-Sensory Therapy in Psychiatric Care; Sarah Baillon, et al; 2002
- University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension; Responding to Color; Linda Adler; 1999
- University of Arizona Extension; A Color Palette for Your Landscape; Lucy K. Bradley; 1997
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .