Over the last 40 years noise levels in hospital wards have gone up from 57 decibels to 72 - a level which is known to be dangerous to health if staff or patients are exposed to it for significant periods. This is mainly because of increasing amounts of equipment and removal of sound-absorbing surfaces for infection control reasons.
Every three decibel increase is a doubling of volume. We know that for people with dementia, often with hearing impairments, noise can cause severe stress and sometimes this results in distressed behaviour. Obviously there are features of the environment that can reduce this such as acoustic panels, but some of it is noise made by staff who are not sufficiently aware of the significant volume of noise that they create. NHS Lanarkshire have found a device which really helps to alert staff to harmful noise – a ‘yacker tracker’. This device measures decibels and uses a traffic light to show how severe the problem is.
Staff can then see immediate results if they reduce the noise; the traffic light goes from red down to amber or even green. Staff, visitors and patients are then aware of what a difference there is when the light is green and how much more congenial the ward environment is. These devices are not cheap, but they can be moved around the hospital from one ward to another. NHS Lanarkshire use them in A&E where they had a particular problem and have found them really helpful.