You're lying on a gurney in excruciating pain. There is talk of surgery. You stare at the ceiling. In the state you're in, you're not paying much attention to what you see. But according to research, you may be benefiting (or not) from color choices the designers of your hospital have made.
Imagine, says Rozalyn Cama, the difference between waiting for medical care in a drab, depressing room versus one filled with calm, comforting colors. Research by The Center for Health Care Design, which Cama chairs, shows there is more than a superficial effect on patients' well-being. By considering the impact of all design elements, including color, "we can prove that built environments can promote better health outcomes," she says.
The human eye can see 7 million colors. All these colors can alter moods, influence behavior and cause physical reactions. Studies show, for example, that red increases blood pressure, a good thing for people with anemia, but not so good if you already have high blood pressure. Blue can reduce stress and provide calming effects in environments ranging from bedrooms to stress-filled doctors' offices. In addition, blue suppresses appetite and is recommended by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, along with deep green and brown, as an effective dietary aid.
According to research by Roger Ulrich at the University of Texas, a view of color-filled nature improves recovery from surgery. Extending that logic, some designers believe soft shades of green, the predominant color of natural environments, might have the same effect. "We're seeing a lot of light greens and yellows in health-care design these days," says Cama.
Alternative health care has long promoted chromotherapy – the practice of introducing strategically colored elements such as silk, gemstones or color-filtered light – to treat a gamut of ailments. This treatment originated 4,000 years ago with the Egyptians, who built healing temples of light that filtered the sun's rays, bathing patients in specific colors to treat particular illnesses and emotional states. Traditional health care is rediscovering the intrinsic wisdom in this ancient practice.