Isolation, solitude and unpleasant interiors of hospital rooms – this is the reality of patients, who suffer from illnesses during the pandemic. Even though they eventually get cured, they leave the hospital feeling depressed and exhausted. A solution can be found in synesthetic design. It involves not only fulfilling patient’s sensual needs, but also a holistic approach towards the healing process.
According to a study conducted in San Raffaele hospital in Milan, over a half of patients suffering from COVID-19 struggled with depression, PTSD, anxiety or insomnia after they left the hospital. It was not a direct effect of the disease itself, but rather of the treatment. When patients are locked up in isolation wards, they are denied any contact with their close ones. They experience physical isolation along with the feeling of separation. If there is a suspected infection with COVID-19, the patient is treated like a leper. Not only is his physical freedom restricted, but also the mental one. Instead of receiving a treatment plan or soothing news, he or she has to face an overwhelming sense of loneliness. There is no clear diagnosis or solution that one can rely on.
There exist a lot of sensual factors that affect the patient’s healing process. Firstly, it matters whether the hospital room is visually appealing and the fabrics sufficiently soft. Empty walls and constant artificial lighting contribute to the increased feeling of anxiety. Sterile hospital interiors are supposed to provide some sort of security. Patients are closely monitored, disinfected and warned about all sorts of dangers. However, the increased supervision deprives the patients of the much-needed fragility and privacy that is connected to the sensory stimulation. According to the psychotherapist Virginia Satir, humans need four hugs a day to survive, eight to maintain their health, and twelve to grow. An average human being is relaxed by the smell of forest, warm and open spaces with natural fabrics, and nature. Why are the hospitals designed in a way that is contrary to those senses? Instead, patients are put into cold and restrictive rooms, with strip lighting and sharp smell of the disinfectant. The architect Dr. Anna Malicka believes that “designing hospitals is an art of searching and creating hidden potentials, it is a way in which architecture gets involved in the healing process”. The concept of so-called “healing environment” involves designing spaces, which do not evoke fear, but rather aid the therapeutic processes. By acting on the sense of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, designers can significantly improve the patient’s healing process.
Hospital diet is known for poor quality of products, lack of taste and repetitiveness. White bread served with a slice of cheese or ham does not amount to culinary art. It makes no sense since serotonin, the happiness hormone, is mostly found in the gut – often called the second brain. No wonder that food has such a great impact on mental health. The gut and human brain are directly connected by the vagus nerve. If the digestive system is not working properly and the gut microbiome is poor then a bad mood is guaranteed. The hospital diet should include produce that is rich in tryptophan and omega-3 acids. The variety of texture, colour, and way of serving the dish also plays a significant role. The more variety of produce on one’s plate, the healthier the gut microbiome. As a result, patients can observe increased concentration, better mood and improved sleep.
The hospital design and patient’s healing process are undeniably intertwined. It is crucial to provide patients with an environment that is appealing to their senses. Introducing aromatherapy, colour therapy, light therapy and music therapy is becoming more common. It successfully decreases the stress caused by the hospital stay. What patients need is being around nature and kindness from one another. Warm spaces with daylight and the soothing smell of forest affect their sense of comfort and security. Complemented with a diverse diet, based on vegetables, fruit, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. As a result, it is not only the body that is being healed, but more importantly – the soul.
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