Sounds can have two sides in life and dementia. They can be calming and soothing, or they can be noise and aggravating. And noise and aggravation can easily lead to agitation.
John Picker in Victorian Soundscapes wrote, “Noise annoys because it doesn’t fit: it jars, disrupts, upsets. And it upsets because it can’t be understood.”
And that certainly explains how it can be a problem in dementia care.
Many people living with dementia seem especially sensitive to noises. It may be the loudness, the inability to understand what is being said, that the noise leads to an increase in confusion or some combination. Or maybe it’s another reason. Like some people with or without dementia find loud noises hurt their ears.
Dementia patients can become agitated and upset when there is increased noise. In hospitals and nursing homes, loud noises can be found in a variety of places…
- Loud conversations from visitors or staff can contribute. As can other patients or residents who may yell due to their condition, which may include partial or complete deafness and/or dementia. So they may for several reasons not know how loud they are being.
- Alarms and medical equipment can be noisy. As can the background noises. Even white noise designed to mask other sounds can be annoying.
- Change of shifts and mealtimes can also be problematic with increased staff around. The carts for meals may add to the racket.
- Carpeting can decrease noise up to 70 percent, but if incontinence is a problem cleaning it can be a problem. Unclean carpet can be a potential health and odor hazard.
- Loud noises can add to the confusion of the crowd, so having smaller gatherings of family even at holidays may be less disruptive and lead to happier events.
- Sounds can also be soothing. A radio tuned to an Easy Listening station or a CD with soothing music or nature sounds at a low volume can decrease agitation.
- Speaking in a calm soothing voice can also reduce agitation, whether or not the recipient has dementia.
Awareness of the positive and negative aspects of sounds and noise can lead to understanding and decreasing agitation in dementia care without medication.
How have sounds affected dementia in your experience? Share in the comments.
To your Happy & Healthy Caregiving,
Ina Gilmore MD
Purple Angel Dementia Ambassador
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