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How noise affects dementia patients

The importance of good acoustics for nursing homes and hospitals

People with dementia suffer greatly from noise. Too much noise causes confusion and agitation in dementia patients, cause them to wander, fall or develop behaviour problems such as anxiety and agitation. That’s why nursing homes and hospitals must maintain appropriate noise levels for people living with dementia.

Why does noise impact people with dementia?

Of all the senses, hearing is the one that has the most significant impact on people with dementia, because they have a reduced ability to understand their sensory environment. Combine this with age-related hearing loss, and you can see why patients tend to react to their situation rather than to communication – that is, patients will respond to body language and tone instead of the words spoken.

The result of too much noise for dementia patients

Gohen-Mansfield and Werner (1995) identified that 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 when they’re subject to constant unnecessary stimulation, they are often unable to focus on their current activity, such as eating.

People living with dementia are more likely to wander, with research indicating this behaviour is due to the patient trying to remove themselves from a noisy situation.

Too much noise, such as from the TV or radio, will cause behavioural problems, including anxiety and agitation in a person who has dementia. This agitation can lead to falls and injuries to the patient.


Which locations can be too noisy for people with dementia?

Studies have identified triggers in nearly every room that may cause agitation for a dementia patient. That is why, when creating a facility for these patients, each room must have an acoustic review to determine the impacts on the patients and to rectify any concerns. Avenue Interior Systems can assist you with an acoustic assessment, or guide you on how to complete one.

Bathrooms are a trigger for people with dementia. As they are constructed of all hard surfaces, any sound made in a bathroom tends to be amplified. The flowing water and the flush of a toilet can cause disorientation for sufferers. Adding absorbent materials in the bathroom will reduce some of this disorientation.

Dining areas can cause significant disorientation and agitation at mealtimes for people living with dementia. The noise of the TV, radio, staff talking, and the clatter of dishes can lead to aggression and frustration. Applying products such as Calando Panels or ECOWall will reduce the reverberation in the room and make the environment more comfortable for dementia patients.

Dementia patients and open spaces

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 all may have an impact on people with dementia.

Adding rugs or carpets to hallways will reduce some of the excess noise in common areas. Other solutions may be an ECO Strong Divider set up as a quiet space for residents, or Calando Panels or Acoustic Fabric applied to room surfaces to reduce noise.

Noise problems are magnified at night

Even familiar sounds, such as a washing machine, will seem louder at nighttime. Lack of sleep caused by these sounds will lead to low concentration and difficulty communicating during the following days.

Treating laundries and kitchens with absorptive products will reduce the noise emitted into bedrooms and common areas, easing the overstimulation for people living with dementia.

How to improve noise for dementia patients

McManus and McClenaghan (2010) recommend the following strategies to enhance environments for people living with dementia:

  • Ensure there are no air passages or gaps around doors, which may let sound travel between spaces
  • Make sure that mortar joints are concrete between walls and ceilings during construction
  • Use floating floors or acoustic underlays to reduce impact noise from footsteps, trolleys, or doors closing
  • Use sound-absorbing curtains plus wall and floor coverings to limit reverberation
  • Ensure shift changes don’t take place near room housing dementia patients
  • Introduce soft background music the patients are familiar with (this does not work for all patients)
  • Apply acoustic ceiling tiles and 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 between the rigid interpretation 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. Many Avenue Interior Systems products are easy to clean and microbial resistant, making them suitable for use in medical environments.

The benefits of better noise control in care homes

Though they are often not the focus of medical care facilities design, the benefits of a quiet environment for people with dementia are profound. Some positive outcomes of a quiet environment include:

  • Improved responsiveness, since patients will have more time to process information and require less effort to concentrate
  • Better communication, as a patient can focus on one interaction
  • Reduced confusion and increased restfulness, and
  • Ultimately, more dignified care for dementia patients.

Talk to Avenue about healthcare soundproofing solutions

To determine where the most prominent noise concerns are in your facility, contact an AcousTech acoustic engineer to perform a noise assessment. The engineer will identify areas of concern, and recommend the best Avenue Interior Systems products to assist you with your commercial acoustics.

For more information about designing acoustically sound spaces, download our eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Noise Control for Health Professionals or contact us at 1300 827 177.