Researchers Search for Ways to Reduce Nursing Home Noise

Now, researchers will test the effectiveness of several noise-reducing environmental interventions they developed to reduce sleep disturbances among nursing home residents. Their ultimate goal is to improve residents' health and quality of life.
Noise increases measured at six or more decibels were a factor in 18 percent of almost 4,000 nighttime awakenings, according to researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University and the Atlanta Veterans Administration Medical Center. Researchers collected the data from 92 metro Atlanta nursing home residents studied for about 500 person-nights. The National Institute of Aging is funding the five-year study.
"The nursing home population has a great deal of sleep disturbance," said Bettye Rose Connell, a health research scientist at the Atlanta V.A. Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at Emory. "...Not all awakenings are related to noise. But sleep disruption related to noise is enough of a problem that we want to find ways to relieve it."
Researchers have determined that nursing home noises usually fall into one of three broad categories: people talking; mechanical noises, such as cleaning equipment; and people doing things, such as pushing carts.
So acoustical engineers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have created several low-cost noise-reducing environmental interventions and tested them in five nursing homes. The results are promising, researchers said. One of the interventions -- sound-absorbing panels hung on hallway walls -- has reduced noise by a factor of 16. That is equivalent to the difference in noise between music booming from 16 speakers versus on speaker.
"These interventions reduce echoes and reverberations in hallways and rooms," said Krishan Ahuja, a Regents researcher at GTRI and a professor of aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech. "We have the noise-absorbing panels, ways to reduce the noise of banging doors, special hooks for curtains, and we even wrap the ice machine with a sound-deadening blanket to reduce noise."