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Aural Environment: Do You Hear What I Hear? 

The power of the aural environment in aged care homes 

A great deal of research has been done in recent years to examine how the aural environment impacts on the health and well-being of aged care residents, and in particular, people living with dementia. Modern residences in Australia are light years away from the institutionalised, sterile and impersonal environments of the past. The power of green spaces has been recognised and now many new homes are surrounded by beautiful gardens with courtyards and outdoor spaces where residents can relax. Interior décor is welcoming, comfortable and designed to encourage interaction, as well as relaxation, drawing the residents out of their rooms. Menus have improved too, with residents offered delicious and nutritious meals to satisfy their palates and meet their dietary needs.  

However, one design aspect that is often overlooked is the ‘aural’ environment. 

What do we mean by aural environment?  

Aural is defined as of or relating to the ears or to the sense of hearing. (Merriam Webster Dictionary). So when we speak of the aural environment, we are referring to all the sounds that surround us. In aged care, it is about the sounds that pervade the home of your residents. 

What sounds make up the aural environment of your aged care home?  

If you were to close your eyes on any given day and just listen, what would you hear? Is it the TV with its noisy ads and frequent news bulletins highlighting all the turmoil of the world? Is it raised voices of staff conversing? Is it in fact a cacophony of noise echoing around the home?  Or is there no sound at all other than staff going about their work? 

Is this creating the sort of environment that is good for your residents?  

The aural environment and dementia 

Of all the senses, hearing is the one that has the most significant impact on people with dementia in terms of quality of life. Noise that is acceptable to care staff may be distressing and disorientating for a person with dementia. (Social Care Institute for Excellence, October 2020). This noise can cause frustration and can increase agitated and aggressive behaviours.  

Research has shown that age appropriate music can lead to reductions in agitation, aggressive behaviours and improvement in quality of life in residents living with dementia in aged care facilities. (Travers, 2019) Calming music can be helpful too, if a person with dementia is awake during the night. 

How can we improve our aural environment? 

Here are 4 ways you can improve the aural environment in your aged care residence: 

  1. Train staff in the importance of minimising unnecessary noise and how to recognise signs of agitation in residents that may arise from this 
  1. Replace distressing TV noise with familiar and age appropriate music  
  1. Ensure residents have access to soothing and calming music in their rooms at night 
  1. Put residents first and ensure the aural environment supports a home that is a source of relaxation and enjoyment for all residents. 

References: 

1 Social Care Institute for Excellence, October 2020 

2 Silver Memories Research Program, University of QLD, Funded by Federal Department of Health (2018) 

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