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'Trippy' care room offers patients sensory treatment for medical recovery

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Marya Brown, 61, relaxes in a Snooze Room at the Island Health facility in Victoria, B.C. in a recent handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Bill Blair

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Marya Brown, 61, relaxes in a Snooze Room at the Island Health facility in Victoria, B.C. in a recent handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Bill Blair

VICTORIA - Marya Brown twirls a lighted fibre cable above her head at least twice a week.

She says it reminds her of her teenage years when she held up lighters in darkened arenas during encores at rock concerts.

Brown, 61, is convinced the psychedelic experience she's offered at Victoria's Aberdeen Hospital in a semi-dark room filled with what appears to be colourful bubble-making machines and projector-images of flowers and stars helps her recover mentally and physically from a stroke that put her in a wheelchair.

She describes the residential care facility's former caring room as cluttered grandmother's closet with faded wallpaper and out-of-date upholstery.

But its recent transformation into a sensory playground for the elderly and others with dementia or brain injuries makes it a special place, she says.

"I love the caring room," she says. "I find it inspiring. I find it beautiful and I find it peaceful."

She's in the room at least twice a week for music appreciation sessions.

"It takes me back to the late 1960s and early 70s when we used to sit in each others basements and play music on our stereos. The room, I feel stimulates my brain is a very special way. I think it happens very subliminally, almost."

She holds up the lighted cable and says: "It's our Bic lighter from when we were at concerts. Who needs drugs."

Aberdeen's Recreation Therapist Johanne Hemond says the caring room is the culmination of a year-long project to offer soothing touch, feel and see therapy to residents and patients.

The room is modelled on the Dutch-developed Snoezelen rooms, which are used worldwide to help people of all ages, including children with autism, to engage with experiences that give them pleasure and a sense of peace. There are more than 1,200 such rooms worldwide.

People interact freely with the room's different components to create positive environments. They control the level of sensory stimuli and adapt their responses.

Hemond dims the lights, turns on the projector and walks over to an elongated cylindrical tube that appears to be filled with flowing bubbles.

"Our bubble tube, it's a bigger version of a lava lamp," Hemond says. "It's trippy. People follow the rhythm of the bubbles and feel the vibration."

She says she's seen people in wheelchairs hold onto the tube and let the bubbles flow through them. She has seen others hold the tube and fall asleep.

The water wall, which sounds like a running stream and changes colours, is visually stimulating and enhances relaxation, Hemond says.

A projector sets the mood by beaming images of an alpine meadow on the wall while shimmering stars move along the ceiling.

Peoples senses diminish as they age, especially for those living with Alzheimer's, preventing them from enjoying their surroundings which can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and social problems. The room serves to bring people back in touch with their senses, she says.

"This is a great place to come down and let them have their own time,"says Hemond. "It's a holistic approach to their care. It's part of their therapy, but without using medication."

The caring room is also used for hospice purposes and weekly dog-therapy sessions are also conducted with residents and patients.

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