Importance of Reducing Noise in LTC Facilities

Uncontrolled Noise Pollution Can Exacerbate Dementia

noise pollution
Reducing noise in health facilities is good for resident well-being as excessive noise can contribute to the confusion of dementia and make it worse. Getty Images

Dementia is a disease that affects short term memory and also impacts the person with dementia’s ability to communicate. Activity directors know when working with residents with dementia they may have to answer the same question over and over within a few minutes and help a person who cannot speak identify what they are trying to express. Often long-term care environments make the problem worse. Reducing noise in long-term care facilities is important for resident well-being.

Sound within a long term care community, including the noises and language generated by staff, may actually create additional language problems for the person with dementia.

A Harvard University study found that noise within a care unit disrupts sleep which can increase memory problems along with other health issues. The distracting sounds: electronic alarms, staff footsteps, staff conversations, overhead paging systems, ice machines, rolling carts, etc. In addition TVs, radios, music even at low volume close to a whisper caused sleep interruptions.

Rush University Medical Center in Chicago added insulating drywall and acoustic ceiling tiles to patient rooms, carpeted hallways, and set lights to automatically dim at night. This lighting change caused workers to automatically lower their voices.

They also changed to a nurse paging system that went directly to the nurse’s cell phone and created another system that turns off the patient monitor alarms as soon as a nurse enters the room.

The result was improved sleep and mood for patients.

Noise reduction is also critical for residents with dementia during the day. A study by Lauren Emberson from Cornell University found even people without dementia are distracted when they hear only parts of two-sided conversation.

The researchers found significant differences in a person’s ability to concentrate on both tasks at hand when listening to half a conversation (the “halfalogue”) as opposed to silence, a monologue, or a complete two-sided conversation.

Applying this to life in a retirement community and especially in a dementia unit, activity directors:

  • Need to remind their staff, the TV must be turned off during meals and off during activity programs in order for residents to focus and enjoy the meal and activity.
  • Staff assisting residents with dining must keep their conversations between themselves and the resident, not between staff members and thus ignoring the resident.

TV, staff conversations, alarms etc. may distract residents from activities and from eating. In addition, a resident with dementia who cannot remember the word ‘butter’ for their potatoes or to say, “I don’t like creamed corn” will find extra frustration when trying to express themselves. These same residents are confronted with their brain attempting to remember a word while also sorting out the sounds of the TV, the staff conversation about weekend plans, the chair alarm of the resident seated next to them etc.

There are sounds that aid residents with dementia. White noise machines can calm residents at the end of the day. Soothing music and dim lights can relax residents who become agitated during sundowning.

One retirement community found they improved residents’ level of contentment and moods by simply having all staff wear quieter, non-squeaking soled shoes!

As Simon and Garfunkel told us in song so many years ago, there is beauty in the sounds of silence.

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