Noise Levels & Dementia: Creating a Safe Environment

For a person living with dementia, hearing is often the sense that has the most significant impact in terms of their quality of living. This reason for this is that dementia can impact how a person perceives external stimuli, such as noise and light. In addition, hearing is linked to balance, which means a person with dementia may be at greater risk of falling in an environment that is loud and overstimulating as this may lead to disorientation.

The level of sensitivity to noise can change for a person with dementia as the disease progresses, or even during the course of the day, as they may become more tired. A person living with dementia has a reduced ability to understand their sensory environment, so they will often react to it. As such, noise alone can be enough to trigger an outburst from a person with dementia; however even in milder cases, if other senses are also overloaded, a dramatic change in their behaviour may occur.

The following are some of the common noises that occur in a household that may be problematic for a person with dementia.

  • Dining Noises: It can be difficult for a person living with dementia to concentrate on a meal if there is a lot of background noise. As such, televisions or radios should be turned off to reduce the risk of behaviours, such as aggression and frustration.
  • Bathroom Noises: The acoustics in a bathroom can affect a person living with dementia. Sudden noises in the bathroom, such as the toilet flushing or flowing water, can startle them.
  • Night Time Noises: Noises at night time can cause a person with dementia to have a disturbed sleep, which can lead to difficulties the next day with concentration and communication. It’s important to try to reduce noise as much as possible in the evening and later at night.

How to Reduce Noise in a Building

As a care provider, it is important to ensure a person living with dementia is exposed to appropriate levels of stimulation. This will typically mean trying to reduce noise levels in their personal space – whether that is at home or in a formal care centre.

There are three main things to consider in relation to reducing noise in a building:

  • Absorption: How much sound is absorbed within the environment?
  • Transmission: How sound is passed between areas, for example, between rooms.
  • Insulation: How the walls, floors and ceilings in a building can prevent noise from being transmitted. For example, a heavier surface will be more effective at deflecting noise.

Taking the above into consideration, the following strategies may help prevent excessive noise in the environment:

  • Ensure there are no gaps or air passages around doors
  • Ensure joints are filled between the walls and ceilings
  • Use ‘floating floors’ to reduce the impact of noise from footsteps, doors closing etc
  • Add curtains and wall and floor coverings that absorb noise and limit the amount of reverberation.

How to Reduce Noise During Caregiving

In addition to making the person’s physical environment more appropriate, it may also be necessary to make changes to how we approach caregiving in order to reduce overstimulation through noise. The following are some of the key things caregivers can do to reduce noise levels in the home of the person in their care.

  • Before speaking to the person you are caring for, ensure the television or radio is turned off to reduce background noise.
  • Always speak clearly and slowly so that the person can hear and understand you. Often, it may be necessary to repeat what you say.
  • Be aware of noises that occur in the home that may cause a reaction from the person with dementia. For example, noises from neighbouring homes, a clock ticking loudly, noises from the central heating system and water pipes, or when someone flushes the toilet. A person living with dementia may no longer recognise these sounds, and it may startle them. In some cases, caregivers are unaware of these noises but notice the person in their care reacting, and wrongly suspect they are experiencing hallucinations.
  • If the person in your care needs to use hearing aids make sure they are clean and working correctly at all times.
  • Discuss the above points with other caregivers and family members who are also involved in the care routine to ensure everyone is doing what they can to keep noise levels consistently down.

The above should have provided some useful insights into how noise may affect a person living with dementia and some ideas as to how to reduce the impact that this has on them.

If you’re caring for someone with Dementia, Brain Sparks’ Dementia Live® course may be of benefit to you. The course immerses carers in the experience of living with Dementia to give them powerful insights for effectively communicating with those in their care.

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