Are individuals with Alzheimer's disease more sensitive to noises?

Of the five senses, hearing has the most significant impact on those with Alzheimer's or dementia as related to quality of life.

A loss of hearing can worsen the effects of sensory changes by altering how an individual perceives external stimuli, such as noise and light.

Hearing also is linked to balance, so a loss can lead to a greater risk of a fall, which also can occur because of an increase in disorientation as a result of the individual trying to orientate themselves in an environment that can be overstimulating and/or too noisy.

Affected individuals respond better on a sensory level than intellectually. For example, the affected individual will note body language or tone of voice rather than what someone is actually saying. This sensitivity to sound or noise can change throughout the course of the day or over time because the affected individual has a reduced ability to understand their sensory environment around them. With the combination of age-related deterioration in hearing, affected individuals react to their environment rather than being supported or enabled by it.

The bathroom environment is one such case and can be problematic because of the acoustics. A running shower or bath or flushing the toilet can create confusing or sudden noises. It oftentimes eases the affected individual to sing a tune that is familiar and recognizable to him/her while in the bathroom.

Noise in open spaces can also cause agitation and frustration in affected individuals. Sounds from television shows, music on the radio, clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen, for instance, can all contribute to disorientation and frustration in the individual.

Also, think about the sounds of a movement of a chair, with the noise of its legs being dragged across the floor. For a veteran, especially one who endured combat, that could sound like gunfire and create much anxiety and fear.

Additionally, because sleep is so imperative for the individual with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, noise at night should be kept at a minimum. Washing machines, dryers and dishwashers are examples of noises that seem much louder at night.

Caregivers should always try to reduce noise levels when offering appropriate activities, and consider all environments in which the affected individual lives and socializes. Music of the individual's choice should be played and any television or radio programs that are on should be turned off before starting to talk with someone with Alzheimer's or dementia or to engage in activities with him/her, as the noises from these programs can be very distracting and disturbing to the individual.

And, keep in mind that outside noises may have adverse affects on the individual. For instance, any outside nearby construction work, central air or heating systems or noises coming from neighbors may be potentially frightening or unsettling for the individual.

Appropriate sound levels can improve communication so the individual can focus on simple dialogue or tasks. Though music can enhance activities, it is often more beneficial to conduct activities in silence as this gives the affected individual time to process the information given and also allows him or her to concentrate on the task.


Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at advice@alzbr.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.