Snuggling up to a teddy bear, soft bird sounds or weighted blankets could be the secret recipe for elderly patients discovered at a recent Parent to Parent's sensory space workshop.

The workshop came about when occupational therapist Amanda Catena, who had been working with elderly patients, especially those with dementia, was looking for ways to make her clients calmer.

"They tend to not want to get out of bed because they are unsure, so we want something that would be calmer but they need some stimulation instead of a cold corner in the room.

"We have been figuring out how a sensory space fits in the hospital."

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Sensory play could even help tremors resulting from Parkinsons, Catena believed, and she hoped one day soon portable units could be taken into each patient's room for those less mobile.

"The simple lights simulations rather than being in a hospital for a couple of weeks not having any stimulation and just having voices of nurses in sterile hospital rooms."

Sensory spaces have always existed, being as simple as a soft teddy often attached to any child's hip when sleeping, explains Altogether Autism regional co-ordinator for Parent to Parent Breanna Turner.

Zaiden Sleet aged two-and-a-half with support parent Fran Fitzell. Photo / Ben Fraser
Zaiden Sleet aged two-and-a-half with support parent Fran Fitzell. Photo / Ben Fraser

"The same as thumb sucking or twirling your hair, it is all sensory soothing."

While Turner focuses on people on the autism spectrum, she said sensory spaces offered something for everyone, because "we all have senses".

"People on the spectrum tend to have less coping mechanisms than neuro-typical people have, but sensory spaces work for everybody when you are feeling stressed and you need time out."

And although people can soothe in different ways, it does not mean a sensory space would not work for you. She said it was a matter of understanding what benefited your needs.

"There are warning signs for when you are going into overload, like sweating, heart beating and possibly a headache.

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"For lots of neurotypical people they just go 'I need 10 minutes and then I'll be okay' but people that don't have that self-moderating ability are often not self-aware until they are in it.

"And once they are in it it is like a toddler in a tantrum."