Room to Heal

Room to Heal

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many have experienced something that is well known to those with chronic conditions – isolation and remaining at home for extended periods. Beyond a place to lay one’s head; a bedroom for someone with a chronic condition becomes a central hub to recuperate and live their lives. It is not difficult to make the association between chronic illness and greater risk for development of anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.

In the short term, the anxiety and depression experienced can be compounded when patients suffer from “cabin fever”. This is a familiar feeling for many, but it is intensified for those stuck at home for long periods of time when their conditions flare or they are healing from a procedure.

Cabin fever is associated with higher levels of inactivity, moodiness, loss of sleep, boredom, loneliness, and increased depression. Unfortunately those with a chronic illness cannot address these issues by taking a brisk walk outside or meeting up with friends and family. A positive care environment has been shown to reduce the burden of disease and shorten healing time for multiple medical conditions.  It is also considered a strong preventative environment to depression and anxiety.

More than a Makeover

Recently, the effects of the physical environment on the healing process and well-being have proved to be increasingly relevant for patients and their families and healthcare staff. While many of these studies have focused on the design of healthcare facilities, the principles are applicable in the home environment as well. Studies on this subject agree that the built environment can reduce risks like falls and infections and can improve privacy and comfort and give a sense of control to the patient.

This is by no means a modern idea. Both Hippocrates and Florence Nightingale acknowledged the importance of the built environment for patient wellbeing. In the modern age, however, we have access to improved technology and a better understanding of what contributes to a healing environment.

A “Designer” Home

There are many building choices, small and large, that can help to create a healing space. Custom furniture can be built to disguise medical equipment while ensuring it remains easily accessible. Mattresses can be upgraded to models that support the body of the patient to reduce the aches and pains that come from long periods of being bed bound. Installing an adjustable bed will allow the patient to change position and get in and out of bed more easily. Heat therapy is effective at treating aches and pains so adding something like an electric blanket can be an affordable and easy addition. Furniture placement should be done with the idea of creating paths of least resistance to areas commonly used by the patient, such as a clear path from the bed to the bathroom.

Big changes like installing specialized equipment or building furniture items to hide medical equipment may seem like too much to take on. Such things are not the only way to create comfort within a patient’s home environment. Try a small change like creating a coffee or tea station so that a patient doesn’t have to walk to the kitchen or rely on someone else for a simple warm drink. If small changes result in a marked difference, that may encourage you to make the bigger long term investments of time and budget.

Get Inspired

Taking on a new design project, even just for one room, can seem daunting. Don’t despair. Consider a few simple questions. What would make the patient feel happy and entertained? What would help them feel at ease? What would reduce feeling like nothing but a patient? Once you know what you are hoping to achieve for them, take inspiration from others. There are myriad examples of design concepts online, many of which include step by step instructions for incorporating those concepts into your own renovation.

With a little inspiration and time, you can help someone you love defeat depression and anxiety by giving them a room to heal.

Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. There are several ways to support research through the ANRF. Find out more and donate today.

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