UPDATE: This article was originally written before the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, the priority of elder care facilities has shifted to address the pandemic’s impact, but the importance of comforting art and successful acoustic treatment remains the same for seniors.
Experiencing an emergency health crisis is harrowing, whether we’re going through it ourselves or seeing our loved one sick or in pain. We feel vulnerable, powerless, and afraid. Going to the Emergency Department is a tacit acknowledgement that we can’t fix this on our own – and that feeling of helplessness is overwhelming.
I remember sitting by my son in the Children’s Hospital ER. It was hard to be calm as we waited to see the doctor but I was comforted knowing my son’s care was specialized to his needs as a child. The hospital’s specialization made us feel safe.
There are 223 children’s hospitals in the United States and kids greatly benefit from having this specialized care. Specialized care takes into account the needs that make children especially vulnerable and ensures they receive the best possible care. But there’s another age group that is also uniquely vulnerable in healthcare – adults over 65.
Benefits of Specialized Care for Seniors
Seniors are now the fastest growing age group in the United States. By 2029, 20% of the US population will be over 65. The aging process causes hearing, vision, and nervous system changes. These changes impact the perception and needs of older adults.
- Age-related hearing loss affects half of all adults over 75.
- Vision-reducing eye disease impacts 1 in 3 adults over 65.
- 1 in 10 adults over 65 have Alzheimers or dementia.
But while there are physical changes related to aging, overall health and longevity for seniors is improving. As a result, there are reassuring efforts to improve healthcare for older adults and better provide for their needs. A frontline for senior health, many emergency departments are becoming GEDA accredited. They’re already seeing positive outcomes including increased patient satisfaction, lower admission and readmission rates, and higher rates of post-discharge independence. Specialized care makes a difference!
Project Profile: UC San Diego Health’s Senior Emergency Department
In UC San Diego Health’s Emergency Department, one thing was increasingly clear. In order to better serve their patients, the hospital needed to make some changes. About 35% of those coming to the ER were over 65 and the current emergency department wasn’t serving them well. It was loud, bright, and chaotic – adding to the anxiety and confusion of many of their patients.
In response, a new specialized emergency department was designed. In 2019, the Gary and Mary West Senior Emergency Department opened. It is 1 of only 10 Gold Level 1 accredited hospitals in the US – known for meeting the needs of seniors with excellence.
To achieve Gold Level 1 accreditation, architects from Entente Design took time to understand and thoughtfully address the needs of seniors and finding a solution for noise was a top priority.
Noise is Worse for Seniors
While excessive noise negatively impacts everyone, it has an even more detrimental effect on older adults because of age-related hearing loss.
Curious about how the world sounds with hearing loss? Check out this great video and “Turn 80 for a Second.”
This type of hearing loss reduces the full spectrum of sound. The middle frequencies remain but higher and lower frequencies can’t be picked up by nerve cells in the ear. Voices become less distinct. Muffled, they blend into the background noise.
In a bustling emergency department, voices, machines, and intercoms lead to the highest decibel levels in the hospital. This background noise makes it difficult for older adults to hear clearly. As patients struggle to hear their health care providers, it adds to their stress, frustration, and fear. Reverberation of noise increases this effect.
Reverberation is the reflection of sound from surrounding surfaces. Hospitals tend to have a lot of reverberation because they require hard surfaces for easy cleaning. Coupled with background noise, reverberation further reduces speech intelligibility for those with age-related hearing loss.
Excessive noise leads to anxiety, confusion, and fatigue from difficulty hearing and over-stimulation. This result is magnified for those struggling with cognitive decline. Noise is also proven to cause behavioral problems, raise blood pressure, increase heart rate and adrenaline, and lead to difficulty concentrating. Difficulty with concentration and focus is concerning not only for patients but also the medical staff caring for them.
Quieting the Chaos
As a solution for noise and chaos, architects from Entente Design selected SoundPly’s micro-perforated Latus Acoustic Wall Panels for their excellent sound absorption and versatility. They’re the first and only acoustic panels to combine resonant sound absorption with mechanical damping. In short, it means SoundPly provides some of the best quality sound absorption and sound clarity. Even better, the acoustic panels don’t require elaborate installation and can easily be applied to existing walls. They’re also anti-microbial, cleanable, and Class A fire-rated, making them ideal for hospital use.
Frank Staffiero, a patient in the ED, describes the difference SoundPly is making. “This just is a lot friendlier to the eye, a lot quieter,” Staffiero said. “It doesn’t look like it’s in a hospital. It looks like we’re in a nice office building.”
A quieter, more friendly environment is exactly what designers had in mind. The best part was that they could address so many needs using just one product. But designers wanted this top-performing acoustic panel to serve another purpose, as well.
SoundPly Acoustic Art for Hospitals
Entente Design requested SoundPly’s Latus Acoustic Panels be UV-printed with art to serve as large murals in the waiting area, hallways, and patient rooms. The beautiful murals feature sweeping landscapes of a local nature reserve, but their purpose goes deeper than their visual appeal.
Studies show that images of nature have a restorative and healing effect in a stressful environment. They also have a calming impact on those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. By UV-printing art on Latus Acoustic Panels, the panels aren’t just creating a quiet environment and helping patients hear their doctor. They’re also having a healing effect, bringing patients peace and hope during a difficult time.
Aaron Chang, whose work is featured on the acoustic art panels, is excited by the result. “All of the murals in this facility are serving two functions: One, they’re (giving) a sense of place and relaxing the patients. And two, they’re dropping the sound levels.” He explains, “High sound in an emergency department is something that causes the stress levels to go up. So if you can drop the sound and make the room quieter, stress levels drop accordingly.”
We’re so proud to have SoundPly’s Latus Acoustic Art Panels in UCSD’s Geriatric Emergency Department, alleviating stress and discomfort for people at a time when they need it most. Latus Acoustic Panels can be UV-printed and customized for application in any commercial settings and are a beautiful, effective acoustic option for healthcare, office, classroom, or restaurant use. For more information, visit the SoundPly site.