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In Australia, there is a National Policy to reduce Seclusion and Restraint in Mental Health Services.
Sensory Modulation has been recommended as one of the strategies to assist with reducing and eliminating seclusion and restraint. We are often asked how this would work.
Ideally, sensory modulation items would be available and easily accessible in mental health units and nursing homes. This would mean that if someone started to becomes distressed, agitated or angry, they would be able to easily use one of the available sensory modulation items. This could assist them to calm down. This can include items such as ice gel packs, weighted cushions, warm blankets or wraps, weights or exercise machines. Having these items in some environments requires a balancing of the benefits of having something that can calm someone down vs the risks of having these items on the units. In some places, sensory modulation items are only available in a room or at the nursing station. This then means that an agitated or angry person requires support to access the items or the room when they need it, in a timely manner. At Sensory Modulation Brisbane, we have a preference for sensory modulation items and calming activities to be generally available in units so that the person can easily access it when they need it. Some items (eg weighted items) require additional training or information from an Occupational Therapist.
It is starting to get warm in Brisbane so using heat packs and hot water bottles isn't really what we want anymore. This month we have been trying some new icy sensory items. This has included slushies, eye shades that can be frozen and cold squeeze balls. These items have been really popular and have been reported to help with grounding and also with anxiety. Another option is to wet a towel and wrap it around the shoulders. This helps to cool down and the weight of it also has a calming effect. There are more products on the market that can be bought but it is also possible to make your own cold sensory item. Try putting sensory items in the fridge or freezer. We have tried stress balls and smooth stones and have also frozen grapes. Cold is an intense sensation but one that can be used to change the mood. Just make sure that you don't give yourself a freezer burn!
Co-regulation - calming everybody down
A person may come to an Occupational Therapist seeking information on their Sensory Preferences. They may want to know if they are sensitive to visual input or seeking of movement or strategies to manage their sensations. An Occupational Therapist can provide assistance with this information by using assessment measures such as Winnie Dunn's Adolescent/Adult Sensory Profile.
Sometimes when we are discussing Sensory Preferences, we work out that the sensitivity to sensory stimuli has only been for a short period of time. This can indicate an underlying medical condition including physical or mental health issue. An Occupational Therapist will often refer a person back to their Doctor or another health practitioner to assist with this.
Some of the medical conditions that can be confused with a sensory processing issue include tinnitus, hyperacusis, glaucoma and post traumatic stress disorder.
It is worthwhile to speak to an Occupational Therapist to understand your senses, your preferences and to assist in the process of identifying underlying medical conditions.
Sensory Interventions have been found to be effective in reducing agitation