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Sensory rooms for stimulating people with brain injuries

  • 5 June 2019

Multisensory environments are exceptional spaces in which to work with people with brain injuries, as in them we can create an adjusted, pleasant atmosphere that encourages a positive attitude to any activity, and specific elements that are extremely useful for working with people with brain injuries. The possibilities and available resources are multiplied when we use SHX multisensory rooms.

When a person suffers a brain injury as the result of a traumatism, a cerebrovascular accident, anoxia or a brain tumor, damage can occur in different areas of the brain that control functions such as sensory perception, motor control, cognition, the emotions, the personality, the state of awareness, communication and language. Multisensory rooms, and in particular those with SHX technology, allow us to create environments that are accessible on every level at which the user can connect and offer activities for working on all the areas mentioned above in order to achieve more complex functions.

Sensory and perceptual disturbances lead to the senses perceiving, processing or integrating basic stimuli incorrectly. This means that the user is unable to adapt their responses to the demands of their environment.

In general, the objectives pursued in an SHX multisensory environment for people with brain injuries are:

  • Facilitate the perception, organization, interpretation and integration of different  stimuli received from the exterior by the senses.
  • Give rise to multisensory organization. – Provide a space in which to stimulate directed attention towards the meaningful, real daily activities of the person with the brain injury.
  • Make the interpretation of sensory experiences easier.
  • Arouse directed responses that are adapted to the stimuli.
  • Provide a safe, confidence.
  • Inspiring and comfortable space for the user’s interaction  with their surroundings.

Sensory perception

We use functional receptors such as the eyes, the ears and smell receptors in addition to certain areas of the brain to perceive and process the stimuli around us. We integrate these stimuli with the rest of our senses, and give them meaning with the aid of our memory. In the case of people with an acquired brain injury, this sensory perception may be disturbed, affecting sight, hearing, smell, somatosensory circuits, proprioception or the vestibular senses.

The correct perception of stimuli is essential in order to successfully undertake any daily activity such as walking, answering a question or maintaining posture. If the brain does not receive information correctly both in time and manner, it will be unable to generate an adequate response.

To help a person with limitations in this respect, we need to be able to offer them isolated, adjustable and controlled stimuli, at times subtle, and at others, highly intense. Multisensory rooms provide stimuli that may be visual (tubes, fiber optics, projections), auditory (sounds, music), olfactory (aromas), tactile (textures, balls to manipulate, fiber optic strands), vestibular (water beds, hammocks, swings) or that encourage the development of proprioception (weighted material, deep touch, ball pits). These stimuli are both pleasant and attractive and can be adjusted and controlled by the user and the therapist to offer an environment that is easy to understand and acceptable at any given moment.

In the case of SHX multisensory rooms, these stimuli can be orchestrated in a coherent way while remaining fully controllable and adjustable. For example, the room can be converted into a living room by projecting a fireplace, changing the color of the lighting in the room depending on the palette of the image to produce an immersive effect, lighting a heater at the same time, adjusting the noise of the fire and converting the crackling of the firewood into vibroacoustic signals that are felt with the entire body. Each individual element of the sensory experience can be added individually and its intensity adjusted as required. In any case, they will be presented to the user in a coherent sequence and in a way that is easy to process and integrate.

Motor control

People with brain injuries may have difficulties with postural control, in moving a certain part of their bodies, hypotonia, spasticity and difficulties with coordination and balance. Multisensory rooms offer a wide range of interesting resources to cover these needs.

Firstly, they include elements that facilitate working on proprioception (the recognition of one’s own position and movement) and the body schema. Interesting items for this type of work include waterbeds, ball pits, objects that stimulate deep touch, heavy objects and vibration. Multisensory rooms may also contain elements for working on balance, such as adapted swings, waterbeds or hammocks. These materials can be used in conjunction with other elements and activities to extend the exercises to visual-motor coordination or maintaining balance while completing another task. On the other hand, we can also find comfortable elements in the multisensory rooms that allow us to vary and adjust the user’s posture, such as beds, poufs, comfortable chairs, or hammocks. These will allow each user to be in a comfortable base position that is appropriate for the therapy session. Additionally, these rooms also have elements that will allow us to alter the user’s muscle tone, such as vibroacoustic and massage accessories or seesaws, in order to achieve a satisfactory state for completing the activity. Touching and controlling the therapeutic devices in the room – caressing the fiber optic strands, throwing balls into the pit, pressing buttons so that the SHX scenarios change or experimenting with the tactile material – creates infinite possibilities for working both the gross and fine motor skills. Finally, the room can be finished off with traditional psychomotor stimulators such as stairs, ramps, therapy mats and soft play cylinders. In combination with the rest of the elements in a multisensory room, they create a safe and accessible environment that encourages exploration and mobility.

Cognition

SHX Multisensory rooms allow us to create infinite combinations of images, large-scale videos, sounds, vibroacoustic signals, lighting and the activation of elements such as bubble tubes, fans, projectors or bubble-blowing machines.

These combinations can be based on any subject: colors, the seasons, animals, popular holidays, food, dances, everyday objects or even transport. Personalized content can also be easily created to suit every user’s preferences using family photographs or images of places they have visited, among other possibilities.  The SHX system offers different ways of launching this content using SHX controllers, which include a tablet, a remote control, a die, a mat or buttons.  It is easy to find, control and activate content that will attract every user’s attention and motivate them. From there, it will be easy to create activities that foster concentration, memorization, association, categorization, sequencing, anticipation or positioning.  All of these cognitive skills can be damaged in a person with a brain injury, and a multisensory room is an intellectually-accessible place in which to work on them in a comfortable and inspiring environment.

Communication and language

Beyond cognitive issues, people with brain injuries may also have difficulties in communication and language such as aphasia. SHX multisensory rooms are also an excellent tool for them.  On one hand, they allow voice work to be done by converting it into colors or vibrations. This can encourage, for example, volume control when speaking or noise fragmentation.  On the other hand, they are an excellent tool for working with symbols and the generalization required for using alternative systems. Objects, videos, photographs, pictograms and words can be related in thousands of combinations: using a controller with a pictogram to project the object associated with it, pressing a photograph button on a tablet to see or hear the word, or selecting a word written in red to see everything in the room turn red too, for example. Moreover, the simple fact of offering the user varied and purposeful activities can encourage later commentaries on the experience. This, in turn, can help to promote interest in communication.

State of awareness

Multisensory rooms offer useful resources for changing the user’s state of awareness. For people in a low awareness state, we can search for intense and meaningful stimuli that allow us to heighten their activation and level of attention. For this very reason, they are often referred to as sensory stimulation rooms. In addition to using individual elements, SHX rooms also allow us to create exciting activities such as setting up a small “disco”, experience the sensations of a parachute jump, being in a spaceship or driving a Formula 1 car.

Multisensory stimulation is a useful therapy for patients who have come out of a coma, are in a vegetative state or are in a state of minimum consciousness. Using these adjustable and controllable stimuli permits a therapy that is aimed at systematically waking the user’s sensory receptors in an individualized way in search of a response in them. Moreover, for people with greater levels of impairment, we can find more basic stimuli such as vibroacoustic signals and tactile, vestibular or olfactory elements that allow the therapist to connect and communicate with them at their current level of sensory perception.

Personality and emotions

One of the best-known benefits of multisensory rooms is their ability to create special environments that make it easier to readjust the user’s emotional state and anxiety levelSome people with brain injuries may present highly volatile emotional states, which in some cases may lead to depressive behavior or, in other cases, social disinhibition. At times, this volatility may induce disruptive behavior or situations that the people in the user’s immediate circle find difficult to manage. Enjoying pleasant and meaningful experiences not only creates a feeling of wellbeing and positive attitudes towards the activity but also has benefits that last for hours and days after the activity, helping the user to regulate their emotions. Multisensory rooms are an excellent resource for people – both with and without emotional impairment – to enjoy an activity that is pleasant and meaningful to them. A feeling of wellbeing and enjoying leisure time are not always an easy aim to achieve for people with brain injuries. It is, however, an extremely important one.

More information

If you would like to request more information on our SHX System or our multisensory environments, feel free to contact us–our consultants will be delighted to advise you. Alternatively, you can visit our website here.


 

Written by:

The team at BJLive!

BJLive! produces assistive technology for people with disabilities with the aim of improving their autonomy and life quality. Its human team includes: occupational therapists, special education teachers, speech therapists, engineers, IT developers and experts in assistive technology.

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