Human Rooms in Palliative Care: Creating multi-sensory healing spaces

A human room is a space where a vulnerable person or persons can reconnect with self. This process usually occurs after the participant engages with taking control of the environment by selecting sensory elements that appeal to them…”

Hi folks, with the opening of our brand new Albany Community Hospice just around the corner, I’ve been fortunate to be able to interview Efterpi Soropos, a design consultant who has been pivotal in some of the innovative concepts that are being developed for this modern hospice. Effe’s background includes experience in performing arts design, including theatre, dance, music, opera, visual art exhibitions and the broader entertainment industry, with a specialty employing lighting and multi-media in contemporary design. Her work has included a 2013 Churchill Fellowship to develop immersive sensory art projects for health care settings.

What is a human room?

“A human room is a space where a vulnerable person or persons can reconnect with self. This process usually occurs after the participant engages with taking control of the environment by selecting sensory elements that appeal to them from a selection. These could include videos of landscapes or themed animated concepts, a nature based sound or music piece with a range of pre programed lighting sequences. All of these elements have been developed with the aim of immersing the participant completely.”

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What first got you inspired in the Human Room concept?

“In 2006 my Mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 50. During the long periods of hospital visits I was struck at how awful the environments were, and started a process of wondering how I could use my skills to make hospital rooms better, and more importantly to assist people when they are suffering.”

Effe has gone on to develop human rooms, or ‘multisensory environments’ in a range of healthcare settings, including palliative care units. She identifies a range of benefits for users including relaxation, pain relief and reduction, reduced stress and anxiety, emotional release. At a deeper level she identifies the potential for the human room experience to “assist people to engage with image and sound that relates to their biophillic roots”. Biophilia has been defined as “the process of integrating nature, visually and literally into architecture and urban planning”. There is growing recognition in the medical literature that employing biophillic principles in the design of healthcare settings are associated with stress reduction and increased wellbeing, even when such installations are modest in nature. As you can see from her website, Effe’s vision is immersive and holistic, incorporating sound, light, space and soothing movement.

Your hopes for the future?

“I definitely would love to keep developing spaces that suit the needs and environment of hospices and palliative care units. I even think the concept could be incorporated into patient rooms”

If you have seen examples of great design in palliative care settings, or have experiences with patients and families interacting with natural or multi-sensory environments, please let us know by leaving a comment below.

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