The sounds of LTC

Here’s my latest article on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News:


The sounds of LTC

Observing the customary cacophony at the nursing station, I’d estimate that so-called “alarm fatigue” contributes to more than a few tragedies in long-term care.

Here’s one example that resulted in a lawsuit filing after a resident died when nursing staff ignored the alarm signaling that her ventilator had become disconnected.

That’s why I was so interested in a Stat news article “Anatomy of a Beep,” which focused on collaboration between Medtronic, a medical device company, and Yoko K. Sen, an ambient electronic musician. The feature describes how medical devices came to have the sounds that they do — “alarms that are easily confused and difficult to learn and don’t really tell us what’s wrong” — and efforts to create a more helpful and appealing healthcare soundscape.

While the Medtronic project is geared toward a hospital emergency department with its plethora of health monitors, long-term care operators hoping to avoid alarm-fatigue-related medical catastrophes might take note of their efforts.

Among the many sounds typically competing for the attention of nursing home staff members are ringing telephones, television sets, conversations among staff members, overhead pages, elders calling for help, chair alarms, escalating arguments between residents, completed tube-feed nutrition cycle indicators, noisy nebulizers and oxygen concentrators, exit door and elevator warnings, and call bell signals. Specialized units such as ventilator programs will blare additional alerts.

While some employees are fortunate enough to be able to move to a quieter unit to complete their duties, most must contend with a din they have limited power to change. Researchers have found that noisy healthcare environments can significantly increase workers’ level of distress.

Residents, unless they can independently ambulate, have virtually no ability to escape the hubbub, which can border on an abusive level of noise pollution and can negatively affect their perceptions of their stays. In addition, studies have shown that noise can disrupt sleep and increase the likelihood of delirium.

Consider taking a moment to listen to the soundscape of your facility. Stand by the nursing station, close your eyes and imagine that the sounds are the backdrop for your eight-hour workdays, or your life, 24/7.

Below are some adjustments that can enhance the aural environment:

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The sounds of LTC

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