Unhealthy noise on the rise in hospitals, care facilities

The places of caring and healing are increasingly becoming uncaring and unhealthy as they grow noisier. There is ever more noise from the use of sound emitting gadgets and audio-signals, plus more noise generated by inconsiderate patients, primarily from the playing of TV sets and other sound devices without either headphones or, at least, pillow speakers.

One of the more irritating, possibly avoidable noises comes from the call bells, where formerly only blinking lights were used. The adverse effects of this and many other types of noise on patients' sleep was the subject of a study in the U.S. (American Journal of Nurses, February 2004). It confirmed what other research had shown already: hospitals and other clinical settings are not conducive to good sleep, an essential component of energy restoration and physical healing.

If patients further contribute to the noise from the operation of the facilities with the sound of their respective entertainment devices, the bedlam can become really aggravating and literally sickening.

We heard many complaints from directly affected people and find it rather frustrating that there is no provincial or federal regulation to curb this noise. It is left up to each facility to implement what rules it deems necessary. For that reason we have a "use of head-phones/pillow-speakers requirement" in some hospitals and not in others, but often no choice of where to go for care.

The wife of our member L. Smith on Vancouver Island is in such an unfortunate situation, and Mr. Smith is seeking to change that. He has already made considerable efforts, including the circulation of a petition:


Anyone wishing to sign that petition or participate in the campaign in any other way, please contact us.

Omnipresent "muzak"

By Stacey Loewen

Sometimes I feel like an extra, stuck in a movie with a continuous soundtrack. As soon as I leave my home, the music begins. At the supermarket. The Laundromat. The doctor's office. It's inescapable. The other night, hoping for a quiet evening away from home, I headed off to my local Indigo/Chapters bookstore. I had imagined curling up in one of the big ol' armchairs with a stack of books at my feet. I had imagined whittling the entire evening away there.

I stayed only twenty minutes. The only vacant seat I could find was directly under one of the store speakers, and each time I began to read, the singer's voice would suddenly soar upwards, interrupting my author's narrative with her own sorry tale of woe, or love lost - or something of that sort. I was trying not to listen. I inquired of one of the Indigo staff as to whether any of the other customers complained about the background music. Oh yes, he assured me, all the time. And the staff too. No one, it seemed, could ever agree on the type of music to play.

Why not then simply turn the music off? My suggestion seemed to horrify him. No music? What would be left? There would be no atmosphere, no ambience. It would, in his own words, "be too dead." But, he added cheerily, if I wanted to fill out a comment form suggesting the type of music I would like to hear, I was certainly free to do so.

His reaction got me thinking. What would be left without the music? Nothing. Except, of course, the sound of a book being slid from a shelf; the whisper of fingers smoothing down a page, or, the chatter of pages being flipped like a deck of cards; the hum of voices from the cafe' around the corner; the ring of cutlery and dishes like wind chimes caught in a sudden breeze.

I am reminded of a scene from the movie "32 Short Films about Glenn Gould" which catches the eccentric Canadian musician at a truck stop. He is listening intently to the snatches of conversations that float around him, one voice entering, then another; each new entry forming part of the counterpoint to which he listens absolutely enraptured as if to a Bach fugue.

What would be left without the constant drone of background music that surrounds us every day? Nothing. Except for the sounds of life all around us. The sounds that connect us to our environment. The sounds out of which, if we were blind - or even just curious enough to close our eyes once in a while - we might construct an entire world. If that's not ambience, I'm not sure what is.

Right to Quiet Society Newsletter, Spring 2005
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