CANANDAIGUA — Open a door just a few feet away from a busy nurses’ station at the M.M. Ewing Continuing Care Center and you step into another world.
In what once was a storage room, you’re surrounded by local scenes of nature, with Naples’ Grimes Glen in front of you and, as you turn around, Bare Hill of Middlesex. It’s quiet, aside from the sounds of a crackling campfire or birds chirping. There’s a faint but pleasant woodsy scent emanating from an acorn-shaped diffuser next to two camping chairs that beckon you to sit a spell and gaze at a soothing water feature or the clouds in the large “window” above you.
Dubbed Tranquility Trail, the new sensory room serves as a resource for residents of the 178-bed skilled-nursing facility who have memory care diagnoses.
“The hope is that being in the room will benefit the individuals to the point it helps create a positive overall mood, and that this will improve quality of life,” said Recreation Therapy Manager James Potter. “The room can help decrease stress and anxiety and increase positive and mindful brain activity, which can in turn decrease problem behaviors, falls, and psychotropic drug use.”
Cathy Abbott, a recreation therapist, said she sees a definite change in residents who use the room.
“One of our more anxious residents cannot even form a sentence because of her anxiety, but after 20 minutes or so in the room, she is calm enough to speak in full clear sentences,” Abbott said. “Another resident will come in anxiously rubbing his arm and shaking but will leave calm and still. Yet another resident has repetitive speaking and yelling behaviors but after 20 minutes will sit quietly without repeating himself.”
According to Potter, a nature-based sensory room at Monroe Community Hospital was the inspiration for Tranquility Trail.
“We fell in love with it at first feel,” he said. “The sense of calm was overwhelming and it was so peaceful. I knew with the space we had, we could replicate something like that and put our own local and organizational touch on it.”
For the project, Recreation Therapy partnered with five other departments within UR Medicine Thompson Health — Social Work, Nursing, Facility Services, Administration and Rehabilitation Services.
A vinyl wrap created by ASC Graphics of Rochester features photography by Grant Taylor of Victor and covers all four walls, including outlets and a baseboard heater. The Flotex carpet — green and gray for an outdoor look — absorbs sound, is comfortable underfoot and resistant to wear from wheelchairs.
A flat-screen TV with a Bluetooth speaker for enhanced sound is located in a recessed cabinet to play nature-based DVDs as well as YouTube channels featuring campfires, waterfalls, birds and the like. And next to the water feature are large, realistic-looking “rocks” with a squirrel and a turtle perched on them. With essential oils, the scent diffuser has a number of options offering a calming effect, such as pine, lavender, bergamot and cedar wood.
The room is typically used by one resident at a time, and the resident is accompanied by a staff member.
If the staff has identified a particular time of day that a resident tends to become anxious, that resident is scheduled to be in the room at that time. Also, residents can be brought to the room on an impromptu basis, after a particular activity or encounter has proven stressful.
Residents who do not have memory care diagnoses or behavioral issues can use the room as well. “It’s just plain nice in there and residents may want to visit out of curiosity or just a love of that type of setting and scenery, which in turn promotes happiness and increased quality of life,” Potter said.
Often, a resident and staff member will just sit quietly in the room together, or engage in conversation. But checkers, cards and other simple games one might take to a park or campsite are available.
As Potter noted, “It’s all based on that feeling of being outdoors and just relaxing with a friend.”