Acoustics in aged care is rapidly becoming a major issue. With providers opting for more hard surfaces such as vinyl flooring throughout a facility this is having a profound impact on the health and wellbeing of the residents.

Thoughtful design can reduce the impact of noise and improve the quality of our living environment. The acoustics of a space depends on the structural and interior makeup of the building and should be considered early in the design process.

Noise is classified as either airborne noise, which travels through the air, or impact noise through vibration.
Single products alone cannot be expected to solve acoustic issues. Acoustics need to be managed in three different ways:
1. Absorb
2. Block
3. Cover

Sound absorption is achieved through surfaces such as flooring, soft furnishings and soft applied acoustic materials. We know that good sound absorption will increase speech intelligibility and reduce the noise in the environment which is critical for our elders and especially for people with dementia.

Sound blocking products are designed to stop sound entering or leaving. They are often heavy and dense such as acoustic ceilings and wall products.

The final option is about masking sound which means adding sound to an environment. Active noise control, also known as noise cancellation, is a method for reducing unwanted sound by the addition of a second sound specifically designed to cancel the first.

Combining all three will go a long way to eliminating noise pollution.

There are a number of things to consider when addressing your acoustic issues, whether it is a new build or a refurbishment:
1. Consider engaging an acoustic engineer
2. Employ the services of a professional ceiling and wall specialist early in the planning stage
3. The layout of the building plan has a large role to play – choose your architect wisely
4. If carpet is no longer an option, choose a good vinyl acoustic flooring
5. Soft furnishings will make a difference, select acoustic sheer drapery and blind fabrics
6. Acoustic artwork or specialised wall panelling will also help with the noise reduction

Also consider referring to Michael James Hayne and Richard Fleming’s paper called “Acoustic design guidelines for dementia care facilities”.

It is a must read and they state that “High noise levels can lead to stress reactions such as anxiety, confusion, increased heart rate, blood pressure and fatigue from over stimulation.

Noise has also been demonstrated to delay wound healing, decrease weight gain and impair immune function, with the effect of noise on medical and behavioural health being magnified for a person with dementia.” The link to the paper is listed below.

It is perfectly understandable why providers want to install hard flooring and even when I visited de Hogeweyk last year they had replaced all their carpets for vinyl. De Hogeweyk realised, however, they were going to have a problem with their acoustics and therefore installed a noise cancelling device which worked remarkably well.

There is a wonderful quote by Florence Nightingale “Unnecessary noise is the most cruel abuse of care which can be inflicted on either the sick or the well”. Acoustics can be managed by thoughtful design.

Learn more about acoustic design guidelines for dementia care facilities by Michael James Hayne and Richard Fleming – https://www.acoustics.asn.au/conference_proceedings/INTERNOISE2014/papers/p218.pdf