Noise in Hospitals Can Impact Recovery
After an injury or illness, patients are often told they need peace, quiet and relaxation. Unfortunately, the activity in a modern hospital can keep patients up all night listening to staff pages, alarms and blaring televisions. In addition to interrupted sleep, noise can cause stress and anxiety in patients who are already suffering from confusion and pain. In some situations, extraneous noise can even lead to staff errors.
Recovering at home is one way for patients to receive care while avoiding the loud noise that is often present in a hospital setting.
A Johns Hopkins study found that the average noise level of a hospital was equal to that of a sporting event or busy freeway, with sound levels rising from 57 decibels to 72 decibels over the past 50 years. A British study found that peak noises – a dropped tray or a doctor being paged – could exceed 108 decibels, more than a chainsaw or a car horn.
Unfortunately, environmental noise is a fact of life in most hospitals. Alarms alert staff to the conditions of multiple patients on a floor, doctors and nurses conference in hallways and at nurses’ stations and laundry and food carts rumble by. Worse, sometimes food trays are dropped, doctors are paged in the middle of the night and urgent alarms pierce the usual din of beeping and whirring machines. These noises are often magnified when they bounce off linoleum floors and bare walls.
All of these sounds are vital to the operation of a hospital, but taken together can also delay a patient’s recovery. Environmental noise can disturb a patient’s sleep, leading to increased anxiety and fatigue. Loud, unexpected noises can startle a patient, increasing blood pressure and heart rate. Long-term exposure to noise levels found in most hospitals can actually induce stress-induced symptoms such as altered memory, increased agitation and lower pain tolerance. All these problems are of special concern for elderly patients.
Hospital staff members are not immune to the problem of environmental noise. At the very least, a noisy hospital makes staff members speak more loudly and feel more stress. Sensitive patient information is often shared in less-than-hushed tones, potentially breaching patient privacy. At worst, extraneous noise can lead to misunderstood directions and even medical errors.
Hospitals are working to reduce noise by installing new ceiling tiles that dampen sound, decentralizing nurses’ stations and fixing squeaky wheels on transport carts. Still, it’s impossible to completely eliminate noise from a hospital environment.
Recovering at home allows patients to relax in a quieter setting, undisturbed by late-night alarms or a roommate’s loud television. Patients are able to sleep without unnecessary interruption, and natural noise barriers such as carpeting and curtains reduce the impact of noise while patients recover at home.
Hospitalization for an acute event can be disruptive enough to a patient’s life without the added stress and missed sleep of a noisy hospital room. Recovering from a medical event in a more peaceful setting such as one’s home can reduce the amount of noise a patient experiences during the recovery process.