Intensive Care Units Are Incredibly Loud
September 18, 2012

Impact Of Sound Level Of Intensive Care Units Studied

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Bob Dylan once said, “The radio makes hideous sounds.” While many may disagree with Dylan´s statement, seriously ill patients who may not recognize sounds from the radio may agree.

Recent research conducted by the University of Gothenburg and the University of BorÃ¥s found that the hospice of seriously ill patients is completed in intensive care units (ICU) that have sound levels over 20 dB higher than the World Health Organization´s (WHO) recommendations. The study brings to light the impact of sound in a particular environment for patients undergoing care.

To begin, the study focused on the impact of registered sound levels along with 13 patients who were considered intensively ill. Studying a 24-hour period at the Södra Älvsborg Hospital, the scientists discovered that the sound levels of the environment had an average range of 51 to 55 dB and this range is comparable to the sound level found on a busy road. The findings were recently published in the journal Intensive and Critical Care Nursing.

"Sounds perceived as frightening were uncontrollable sounds from, for example, alarms, and sounds from seriously ill fellow patients, and treatments and examinations. One patient also described how the sounds around him had entered into his dreams and hallucinations," explained lead researcher Lotta Johansson, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy, in a prepared statement.

For about 70 to 90 percent of the study, the researchers discovered that the sound level was higher than 55db and there that there were a few small bursts that were over 100 dB. Patients also spoke about their experiences in a number of interviews. When asked about the surrounding sounds, they described the sounds in both positive and negative ways. Some examples of positive experiences include the noise of staff members who talked quietly among themselves or those workers who gave important information on continuous treatment.

“Most patients remembered some sounds from their stay in the ICU and whilst many were aware of the sounds they were not disturbing to them. However, some also experienced feelings of fear related to sounds emanating from treatments and investigations of the patient beside them,” the authors noted in the article.

On the other hand, the team of investigators determined that sound levels of the current study were lower than levels from previous studies.

"The interesting thing is that what the patients considered most disturbing was unknown and uncontrollable sounds rather than the generally high sound level. This shows that we must take further measures to create healing care environments with better conditions for sleep and recovery for seriously ill patients," continued Johansson in the statement.

Citing the study as a preliminary step in a larger project, the scientists plan to look at more in-depth and longer perspective on how factors in the physical environment can influence patients who are seriously ill.

“In this small sample, no statistical connection between early signs of ICU delirium and high sound levels was seen, but more research will be needed to clarify whether or not a correlation does exist between these two factors,” wrote the authors in the report.