The lights are low. Multi-coloured bubbles percolate up clear columns. A hammock covered with white faux-fur sways in the corner.
No, it’s not a new downtown nightspot. It’s the Snoezelen room at Mount Sinai Hospital (MSH) in Côte St. Luc.
Patients can relax there but its primary purpose is to stimulate the senses.
The name is a blending of the Dutch words “to doze” and “to explore,” and Snoezelon rooms were originally developed in the Netherlands in the 1970s as a therapy for children with autism or developmental delays.
Therapists at the MSH have found it is has a beneficial effect on their adult patients. The 107-bed institution provides three distinct types of care: short term respiratory, long term and palliative.
Recreologist Paul Pinette is aware of four other Snoezelen rooms in Montreal area health-care facilities, but certainly this is the first at the disposal of such a varied clientele.
The room, which was sponsored by Marlene and Joel King and family, has been open since June, and the MSH recently unveiled it to the media.
“The activities they do in the Snoezelen room help patients experience a moment of tranquility, induced by the use of gentle sensory stimulation,” said Maria Stathatos, program manager for respiratory care. “All the senses are engaged, using visual, acoustic and tactile elements.
“One patient called it a Zen experience, another does her art in this room.”
Pinette said, “We have found that with people who are anxious, it calms them down, and for those who are withdrawn, it wakes them up.”
This dim, soundproof room, where calming music or natural sounds are played, is a retreat for patients, and sometimes relatives. To the extent of their abilities, patients can try out at their leisure the various options.
Particularly captivating is the “magic” mat on the floor upon which a variety of scenes are projected, and responds to the movement of one’s hand above it.
With a wave of the arm the water is rippled in the goldfish pond, the autumn leaves are blown away to reveal a forest, or the sand is shifted on a beach strewn with shells and starfish.
Or users can “play” hockey or basketball, even change the course of the planets in the solar system with hand motion.
They might enjoy sitting in the easy chair, as music or natural sounds are piped around them, and calming scenes, the seaside or butterflies or family pictures or almost any other personal selection (one man chose the Rolling Stones) are projected beside them. A vibrating cushion can be added.
Objects with different textures may be handled.
That tempting hammock hangs amid mirrors and tubes of rising bubbles, whose motion and colour can be controlled by the patient. Lighted fibre-optic strands beneath can be picked up and handled. Lying in this actually well-supported chaise-longue is like floating, Stathatos said.
There’s also an interactive touch-screen panel on the wall to test memory in a no-pressure way.
Equipment use is adapted to suit the individual patient. Usually, they have no more than 20 minutes in the room. Some come once or even twice a week. A staff member is always present but remains as unobtrusive as possible.
Trying it for the first time, Marie Truffault, a respiratory outpatient, was filled with wonder.
“Oh boy, it’s beautiful, it’s a dream,” she exclaimed, as she entered the room.
Her breathing visibly eased as Truffault, who carries an oxygen tank, got comfortable in the big chair, her eyes closed. “I feel great, I’m going to sleep,” she murmured.
Truffault’s verdict: “It’s magnificent, it’s marvellous.”
Besides being a welcome break from hospital routine, the Snoezelen therapy room has been found to reduce anxiety and inhibition, and restore to patients a sense of control, something that is typically lost with institutionalization.
To gradually introduce patients or to allow those not strong enough to go to the room to get a taste of the experience, a mobile Snoezelen cart is brought to them. The cart has a projector to screen different images on the ceiling, a bubble column and the fibre-optic strands.
It’s a boon to all three types of MSH patients, even those with Alzheimer’s disease. “Chronic-care patients with dementia can also benefit from the Snoezelen experience, which contributes to breaking through their isolation so that communication can be re-established,” Stathatos said.