Are There Any Health Risks from Constant Noise Disturbance?

Posted by: The Bristal

Dear Maryellen,

My dad lives in an Assisted Living community located in a very populated urban area, and his room faces the front of the building. The walls seem paper-thin to me, because he is disturbed by street sounds all day and all night. Aside from the obvious personal discomfort, are there any health risks involved that can help me make a case for having his apartment reassigned to one further back? -Miriam, Queens, NY

Dear Miriam,

As a matter of fact, I just came across some very interesting findings touching upon this very issue. The answer is a definitive yes; noise is not a healthy thing for the elderly. It has long been known that sharp sounds like traffic noises and other loud disturbances have been linked to a greater risk of hypertension, heart attacks and other cardiac conditions in seniors, but the results of a new study now add the risk of stroke to those potential complications.

Danish researchers found that for every 10 decibels that noise increased, the risk of stroke also increased as much as 14% in people over 65. Here’s the hypothesized connection. Noise acts as a stressor and disturbs sleep; in turn, lack of sleep results in increased blood pressure and heart rate, as well as higher levels of stress hormones. Together, these can all boost the potential for a cardiovascular episode.

If your dad is showing signs of sleep disturbance or deprivation, such as fatigue and lack of focus, excessive day napping, and increased agitation or irritability, and you suspect it is linked to outside noises, I would definitely intervene – especially if he has a history of stroke or heart disease. This advice goes out to anyone with a parent in similar circumstances, whether in a nursing home or any long-term care facility. Unless the facility is at 100% capacity, they should be perfectly willing to allow a move to another room or apartment.

Miriam, if you need a little clinical ammunition, the results of the study I just cited were published in the January 26, 2011 issue of the European Heart Journal. When the community sees that you’ve done your research, they’ll know your request is more than just a whim. Thanks for writing, and please let me know how it goes.

Maryellen McKeon

Source: McKnight’s Online; January, 31 2011

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