Aging Parents, Hospitals, and Noise

The Boston Globe ( recently published an article on hospital noise, Fixing the Noisy Hospital — a timely topic for my family. Written by Drake Bennett, the May 30, 2010, news story highlights the problem of hospital noise and its negative impact on healing.

Last year I was directly involved it two hospitalizations, one for my mother-in-law and one for me. One visit — Mother’s — was unpleasant, uncomfortable, and frustrating, because we neither saw nor heard from Mother’s physician for 27 hours. The other hospital visit –mine — progressed like clockwork, with people who were helpful, willing to share information, and most importantly, my amazing primary care physician was on call that night. Interestingly both experiences occurred at the same hospital.

Though very different, both of these one-night hospital stays shared a common characteristic — noise, and lots of it. My 90-year-old mother-in-law, with advancing post-stroke dementia, was tethered to an IV, and though she did not wander, the nurses decided to attach an alarm to her bed. For nearly three hours that night the alarm malfunctioned while a series of nurses, maintenance people, and finally the hospital engineer on duty tinkered with it. “Let’s see if this works,” one of them would say, and Mother would promptly set off the alarm by turning over or sitting up. But there was more. Mother, because of her age, was put in a room right next to the nurses’ station so computers beeped, IV’s hummed, bells rang, bright lights were on, and other alarms went off (they did finally get hers to ring only if she tried to get out of bed). During my nearly perfect hospitalization, I too ended up right across from the nurses’ station, and my room was also across from a stairwell — one that was used frequently by staff. Every time someone went in or came out the door loudly slammed shut — nine hours of slamming.

How did we get here from years past when “the Quiet Hospital Zone sign was a familiar part of the landscape” everywhere a hospital stood?

The good news is that many people are thinking about noise abatement in hospital settings, partly because hospital administrators recognize that “… noise is unhealthy for patients.” Perhaps more importantly, patients complain emphatically about noise when they evaluate their visits. According to the article, “When patients are asked about their experience in hospitals, noise routinely tops the list of complaints.”

A Few Other Informational Links Hospital Noise

Read more about my Mother-in law’s Hospital Experience and the new Holy Cross Hospital Seniors’ Emergency Department

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3 thoughts on “Aging Parents, Hospitals, and Noise

  1. Pingback: Senior Emergency Facilities at Hospitals « As Our Parents Age

  2. Pingback: Senior Parent Hospitalization Report #2: Peace and Quiet « As Our Parents Age

  3. Pingback: Decreasing Hospital Noise for Patients | As Our Parents Age

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