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Spotlight: Acoustic environments in long-term care facilities associated with stress in workers

Dec 17, 2013 |

The relationship between noise and stress in healthcare workers in long-term care facilities is shown in new research, led by Dr. George Astrakianakis, an Assistant Professor in SPPH’s Occupational and Environmental Health theme.

Over a two year period, the research team measured sound and stress levels of healthcare workers in long-term care facilities. They measured area background noise in facility common areas by suspending microphones from the ceiling above workstations, and also determined the noise exposure level of each participating staff member by clipping a noise dosimeter to their lapel. To quantify physiological stress, they examined participants’ cortisol levels and heart rate variability. The team also recorded levels of perceived stress in participants to compare them to their physiological stress indicators.

Researchers found that there was a spike in noise levels in the evening shift between 3pm and 11pm, and that this noise was associated with increased stress. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and those working the evening shift had the highest perceived stress scores, while registered care aides (RCAs) were found to be the most stressed group of participants, with the lowest heart rate variability and the lowest diurnal cortisol values.

The study showed that noise levels in long-term care facilities have important consequences. Research had suggested that a stress response can occur with noise levels that are as low as 65dB. – a level of noise that would not cause hearing loss. Other research had shown that poor acoustic environments in healthcare facilities add to healthcare worker burnout and stress, factors linked to absenteeism and job dissatisfaction. “Our findings associate these physiologic responses with levels of noise that are common to many jobs, not just those in healthcare,” said George Astrakianakis, principal investigator.

Astrakianakis and his team chose to study long-term care facilities after finding they had worse acoustic conditions than the acute and community care facilities they observed. Certain building characteristics such as wood frames, lack of carpeting and single pane windows are linked with higher background noise levels, longer reverberation times and lower levels of speech intelligibility. This results in noisier workplaces that make it difficult to hold conversations at normal speaking volumes and, even more challenging, to hold private conversations.

Dr. Astrakianakis and the team are currently recruiting graduate students interested in doing further analysis of the project’s outcomes.

The project is supported by WorkSafeBC – The Worker’s Compensation Board of BC.

More information about this study is available at http://healthcarework.spph.ubc.ca/acoustical-environments/

by Sonia Renger