Noise impacts everyone differently. People with dementia suffer a lot from noise. Too much noise causes confusion and agitation. It is essential that nursing homes and hospitals maintain appropriate noise levels for people living with dementia. Excess noise in care facilities can cause patients to wander, fall or develop behaviour problems such as anxiety and agitation.
Why does noise impact dementia patients?
Of all the senses, hearing is the one that has the most significant impact on people with dementia, and this is because they have a reduced ability to understand their sensory environment. Combine this with age-related hearing loss, and it causes patients to react to their situation instead of communication. I.e. Patients will respond to body language and tone instead of the words spoken.
The result of noise and dementia patients
Gohen-Mansfield and Werner (1995) identified nursing home residents were more likely to become distracted and pick at objects if subjected to continual noise. Dementia patients need a grounding point, and therefore, when they’re subject to constant irrelevant stimulation, they’re unable to focus on their current activity, such as eating.
People living with dementia are more likely to wander. Research indicates this behaviour is the dementia patient trying to remove themselves from a noisy situation.
Too much noise, such as the TV or radio on, will cause behaviour problems, including anxiety and agitation in a person who has dementia. This agitation can lead to falls and injuries to the patient.
Studies identified triggers in nearly every room that may cause agitation for a dementia patient. When creating a facility for dementia patients, it is vital that each room has an acoustic review to determine the impacts on the patients and to rectify any concerns.
Bathrooms are a trigger for people with dementia. As they are all hard surfaces, any sound made in a bathroom tends to be amplified and to echo. The flowing water and the flush of the toilet can cause disorientation for sufferers.
Mealtimes can cause significant disorientation and agitation for people living with dementia. The noise of the TV, radio, staff talking, and the clatter of dishes will lead to aggression and frustration.
Open spaces (such as community rooms)
Public areas tend to have a lot of noise sources. Residents chatting, games, TVs and radios, crockery, trolleys and even staff shift changeovers are all noisy and have an impact on people with dementia.
Noise problems at night
Normal sounds like a washing machine appear louder at night time. Lack of sleep caused by these sounds will lead to poor concentration and difficulty communicating during the following days.
How to improve noise for patients
McManus and McClenaghan (2010) recommend the following strategies to enhance environments for people living with dementia:
- Make sure there are no air passages or gaps around doors
- Make sure that the mortar joints are solid between walls and ceilings during construction
- Use floating floors to reduce impact noise from footsteps, trolleys or doors closing
- Use sound-absorbing curtains plus wall and floor coverings to limit the amount of reverberation
- Ensure shift changes are not near the room where a dementia patient is
- Introduce soft background music the patient is familiar with (this does not work for all patients)
- Apply acoustic ceiling tiles
- Apply sound absorbing products to walls (such as ECO Wall) or soft wall furnishings
- Carry out noise audits
- In a hospital environment – try to allocate the patient to a room with the quietest patients, and do not pull the curtain around the patient.
Judd (2008), discussing care homes, proposed that there are tensions around the rigid interpretations of health and safety and infection control regulations and the goal of providing more meaningful and homely environments for people with dementia. Finding a way to blend all requirements will have positive impacts on patients.
The benefits of a quiet environment for people with dementia are overlooked
- They will respond more – they will have more time to process information and require less effort to concentrate
- Appropriate sound levels can improve communication as the person can focus on one interaction
- A quiet environment can minimise confusion and help patients to concentrate and rest
- More peaceful spaces achieve more dignified care for people suffering from dementia
To find out where the most prominent noise concerns are in your facility, contact an acoustic engineer, such as AcousTech, to perform a noise assessment. The acoustic engineer will identify the areas of concern, and they will recommend a business such as Avenue Interior Systems, to assist you with your commercial acoustics.
For more information about designing acoustically sound spaces download our eBook Acoustically Sound Hospitals or contact us at 1300 827 177.