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Acoustic research in care of the elderly

Acoustic research in care of the elderly

Bad acoustic design is not just annoying, but also unhealthy. This is particularly true for elderly residents in nursing homes. Scientist Nicole van Hout conducts research into acoustics in care of the elderly.

For the first time, scientists are investigating the role of acoustics in care of the elderly, under the leadership of Nicole van Hout. The project aims to enhance physical environmental conditions in order to improve residents’ quality of life. Another objective is to establish guidelines or regulations for acoustics that can be incorporated in performance requirements in the building and construction industry.

The development of these guidelines is crucial, according to Nicole van Hout. “Elevated noise levels affect our health significantly. Sounds are continuous vibrations of pressure waves. These pressure waves can trigger the body's stress response. This happens in healthy, young people, but the impact is even greater in frail elderly persons.”

High background noise levels are known to cause stress, hypertension, fatigue and sleeping problems. In care of the elderly, these issues are seldom addressed. But they should be, believes Nicole van Hout. “‘Older people who suffer from dementia are more susceptible to sensory stimuli,” she says. “Too much background noise can cause stress and agitation and even aggression.”

There is another problem that occurs in older adults: high background noise levels reduce the intelligibility of speech, which makes it more difficult to understand conversations.

“At age 80, about 64 per cent of people are hearing impaired. The medical term for hearing deterioration in older adults is presbycusis. Due to hearing loss, older people experience difficulties with hearing speech and engaging in conversations. Eventually, this can lead to social isolation and loneliness.”

The healthcare organizations and universities participating in the research project led by Nicole van Hout have a mission. They firmly believe that architects and designers should stop giving acoustics secondary status. “Particular attention to acoustics is not a luxury but a necessity.”

According to Nicole van Hout,“good” acoustics don’t need to be very expensive when integrated in the design right from the start. “A sound-absorbing ceiling shortens the reverberation time. This will significantly improve speech intelligibility.”

The effects are tangible and measurable. There are several acoustic parameters that scientists can apply: reverberation time, a speech intelligibility index and background noise levels. “Organizations involved in care of the elderly will be able to clearly demonstrate the improvement in acoustics,” says Nicole van Hout.


Text: Aliëtte Jonkers

Photos: Petra Appelhof and Ingredientmedia.

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