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Soundscape Assesses Acoustic Environments in Senior Living Facilities

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On October 12, 2015, in Orlando, Florida, Mandy Kachur presented on healthcare acoustics as part of a panel at the co-sponsored Annual Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Seminar and Annual Florida Healthcare Engineering Association (FHEA) Meeting.  Specifically, she described the senior living research project that Soundscape Engineering performed for the Facilities Guidelines Institute (FGI) and Rothschild Foundation and how the results will translate into proposed improvements to the 2018 edition of the FGI Guidelines for Design and Construction of Residential Health, Care, and Support Facilities.  Additionally, she described the acoustics sections of the FGI Safety Risk Assessment Toolkit for Healthcare Facility Environments and the contributions to the document from the Acoustics Working Group, for which she served as representative.  


The research project assessed the acoustical environment of both public and private spaces at a retirement community of 1800 residents.  The campus includes ten independent living buildings, one assisted living, one skilled nursing and three community buildings.  Site exterior noise, acoustical finishes, ventilation and building systems, speech privacy and intelligibility were all measured and assessed based on the Guidelines and resident opinion.  Soundscape discovered that the large public dining rooms created the most complaints as a result of a loud environment that makes it difficult for people with normal and impaired hearing to be part of a conversation at the same table.  Additionally, mechanical equipment and landscaping equipment generated complaints.  Soundscape also found a lack of speech privacy in the pharmacy and medical center waiting room could become a HIPAA issue.  Other updates that are recommended are Impact Insulation Class (IIC) inclusion, adherence to the International Building Code for acoustic separations and bare room sound absorption.  


Acoustics in the Safety Risk Assessment (SRA) is found in three of the six sections: Falls (noise causing poor sleep, which increases the risk of falls), Medication Errors (noise and distraction for the nurses), and Behavioral Health (noise reduction to reduce agitation).   Project and construction teams can use the SRA tool to assess the design and physical environment of the facility.  A risk assessment for new facilities and major renovations is required by the 2014 Guidelines.  


Photo: Kaiser Permanente