Michael Chotiner


Those who manage extended-care facilities and senior centers are often confronted with a counterintuitive situation: although some residents may be hard of hearing, noisy environments lead to the discomfort of all residents, including those with a hearing impairment. For people with dementia, a noisy environment not only makes it hard to follow conversations but can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety, as well as increased heart rate and blood pressure.

“People with dementia have a decreased ability to deal with multiple and competing stimuli, and may be overwhelmed when there is too much activity in a setting,” writers Margaret P. Calkins, Ph.D. and Philip D. Sloane, M.D., M.P.H. in “Designing a Care Facility.”

Consider an average day in your facility and the noise that is generated from routine tasks, such as conversations, resident activities, rolling carts, telephones, intercoms, the HVAC system and the like. These routine sounds do not include the isolated jarring disturbances, such as a dropped tray or the sudden outburst from a resident. While you may not be able to eliminate these sounds, you can help control them.

One of the suggestions the authors make is to utilize sound-absorbing materials in public spaces. But to pick the right materials, it helps to understand a little about sound. Sound waves travel in all directions. When they hit an object — say, a wall — the object can either absorb the soundwaves or reverberate them back into the room and possibly the next room.

When a facility is undergoing a major renovation, there are a number of building products and techniques that will help control sound once the project is finished, but managers can also improve the sound environment with more modest techniques. Here are some examples.

  • Flooring materials. Carpeting and rugs are better at absorbing sounds than hard materials like wood and tile. From a design standpoint, they also help relieve the institutional feel of a vinyl or tile floor. Some flooring companies are designing soft surface flooring especially for senior facilities. They feature bold patterns to help with navigation and low pile height for walkability. They’re also easy to maintain and include a water-resistant backing. When selecting any flooring material, be sure to provide smooth transitions between spaces to help eliminate tripping hazards.
  • Wall materials. Acoustical wall panels provide an easy solution to help quiet noisy environments. The panels come in a variety of materials, from recycled cotton to plastic to fiberglass. More importantly, they’re available in many colors and patterns so you or your designer can find the right panels to complement the current decor. Most panels mount to an existing wall, while some products are freestanding so that you can create quieter zones within a larger space.
  • Ceiling materials. There are a variety of acoustical ceiling panels available. One trend for rooms with high ceilings is to hang groups of panels at different heights, creating sound-absorbing “clouds.”
  • Other solutions. Sound waves can act a lot like light. If you are in a dark room with a closed door, light from the adjacent room can be seen under the door. That opening also provides a path for sound waves. Special seals for doors and windows can block the path of sound travel. Quilted curtains can block noise from traffic or other activities generated outside of the building.

Creating a pleasant environment by screening out the noise in senior facilities leads to happier and healthier residents.

Michael Chotiner writes for The Home Depot. To review a wide selection rugs and flooring options you can visit Home Depot’s website.