Importance of Reducing Noise in LTC Facilities

Uncontrolled Noise Pollution Can Exacerbate Dementia

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Almost anyone may find that noise pollution disrupts their peace of mind during the day and sleep at night. Yet, for those living with dementia, uncontrolled noise can significantly exacerbate their symptoms. What should you know about the impact of noise pollution of people with dementia as well as ways to reduce noise in long-term care facilities?

Noise Pollution and People With Dementia

Dementia is a disease that affects short-term memory and interferes with the ability to communicate. Activity directors at long-term care facilities for people with dementia know that they may need to answer the same question over and over. They also know that it is important to assist these people as it is difficult to identify what they are trying to express. Often long-term care environments make the problem worse due to ambient noise. 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. Both daytime noise and nighttime noise pose problems.

Noise and Sleep Disruption at Night

Noise in a care facility can significantly disrupt sleep and studies tell us that this can have negative effects on the people who live there. 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 may include electronic alarms, staff footsteps, staff conversations, overhead paging systems, ice machines, rolling carts, and much more. In addition TVs, radios, and even music played at low volume close to a whisper can cause sleep interruptions.

Noise and Daytime Concerns in People with Dementia

Noise reduction is also critical for residents with dementia during the day. This isn't surprising as we know that noise pollution is stressful even for those without dementia.

People both with and without dementia can be distracted when they hear only parts of a two-sided conversation. It is more difficult to concentrate when listening to half of a conversation as opposed to silence, a monologue, or a complete two-sided conversation.

TV, staff conversations, alarms, and other noises 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, and much more.

Methods to Reduce Noise Pollution in Long-Term Care Facilities

Fortunately, noise pollution isn't just an academic discussion and some medical centers are looking at ways to reduce ambient noise.

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.

Methods Any Facility Can Use to Reduce Noise Pollution

There are many things that can be done to reduce ambient noise in a long-term care facility.

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

  • Need to remind their staff that 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.

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 the song so many years ago, there is beauty in the sounds of silence.

Some Noise Can Be Helpful

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.

Bottom Line on Reducing Noise in LTC Facilities for People With Dementia

We know that noise in a care facility can affect just about anyone, and the situation can be much worse for those with dementia. Noise can interfere with normal daytime activities such as eating and disrupt sleep at night. Fortunately, there are many simple measures that staff and activity directors can take to improve the noise pollution in long-term care facilities for people with dementia.

If you are a family member, don't be afraid to speak up. The concept of noise pollution interfering with well-being is relatively new. If you are hesitating to speak up, keep in mind that these changes may not only help your loved one but anyone living in the care center as well.

Reducing noise pollution is only one way that staff and family members can provide a safe, caring, and low-stress environment. Check out some of the other ways you can improve the quality of life for people with dementia.

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