A Sensory Room is a dedicated room with an array of sensory items and strategies for people to trial and use to support their development of self-management skills and to change their moods through Sensory Modulation*. Sensory rooms have been found to be useful in many mental health units by those who use them. (Champagne, 2011).  

Often people express that they would like to use Sensory Modulation, but that their organisation is unable to fund a Sensory Room or find the space to put one. The good news is that is possible to use Sensory Modulation on an inpatient ward or emergency department without a Sensory Room through the use of low cost or existing sensory items or considering the environment.

Low Cost Sensory Items

Low cost items can be purchased at Discount Department Stores (eg K-Mart) . This can include:

·         hand strengtheners

·         cushions

·         weights

·         books

·         mints

·         herbal teas

·         instant ice packs

·         stress balls

·         earplugs

·         scents

·         hand creams

The Sensory Modulation Resource Manual has a list of budget sensory items.

Existing Sensory Items

Many inpatient mental health units have items that they could use for Sensory Modulation. This may include:

·         Blankets, cushions

·         Art or craft equipment

·         Music

·         Ear plugs

·         Lighting – low light, lamps or dimming switches.

·         Ice Packs

·         Games

A Personal Safety Plan can be useful to introduce to an impatient unit, to identify possible sensory triggers or sensory modulation strategies.

Considering the Environment

Within every environment, whether indoors or outdoors, opportunities exist for sensory modulation or possibly sensory overload. One design solution is to develop a distinct sensory space or zone within the mental health unit. Even within the one room, there can be smaller zones. Spaces can be designed so that people are able to move to the area that suits their unique sensory preferences and needs at the time. Zones may include the following:

·         Exercise zone

·         Calm garden zone

·         Low stimulation zone

·         Socialising zone

·         Soothing or comfort zone.

Other sensory zone ideas are available in the The Sensory Modulation Resource Manual

In a 2017 study, Yakov et al found that the lowering of lights and sounds on a mental health unit in the late afternoon reduced the rate of seclusion and restraint. Assault rates fell 83 per cent and the need for seclusions fell by 72 per cent.

On August 6th  2019, Sensory Modulation Brisbane is offering a workshop to use Sensory Modulation in Inpatient Mental Health Units. Other workshops are being held on the use of Sensory Modulation for community settings, for people working in the Non Government Agencies, and for Teacher Self Care.

*Sensory Modulation can be defined as ‘changing how you feel through using your senses’. (O’ Sullivan & Fitzgibbon, 2018).

Citations and Resources:

Adams-Leask,K., Varonal, Lisa, Dua., Charu (2018). The benefits of sensory modulation on levels of distress for consumers in a mental health emergency setting.  Volume: 26 issue: 5, page(s): 514-519 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1039856217751988

 Champagne, T., (2011) Sensory Modulation & Environment: Essential Elements of  Occupation – 3rd edition


S. Forsyth, Angus & Trevarrow, Rebecca. (2018). Sensory strategies in adult mental health: A qualitative exploration of staff perspectives following the introduction of a sensory room on a male adult acute ward. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing. 27. 10.1111/inm.12466.

Hedlund Lindberg, Mathilde & Samuelsson, Mats & Perseius, Kent-Inge & Björkdahl, Anna. (2019). The experiences of patients in using sensory rooms in psychiatric inpatient care. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing. 10.1111/inm.12593.

O’ Sullivan, J., & Fitzgibbon, C (2018) Sensory Modulation Resource Manual.

Svetlana Yakov et al. Sensory Reduction on the General Milieu of a High-Acuity Inpatient Psychiatric Unit to Prevent Use of Physical Restraints: A Successful Open Quality Improvement Trial, Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (2017). DOI: 10.1177/1078390317736136

Te Pou Mental Health Initiatives: Sensory Modulation: https://www.tepou.co.nz/initiatives/sensory-modulation/103