“Premature babies, with their growing brains, are especially sensitive to loud noises. In spite of this, neonatal units often generate a great deal of loud noise from equipment, alarms and
adult voices. What’s more, an incubator vibrates like a drum, reinforcing sounds from outside,” explains Dr Johannes Van den Berg, a neonatal nursing specialist.
Studies have shown that average noise levels in neonatal units are far higher than the 45-decibel limit recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. For children who have been in a neonatal intensive care unit (ICU), the risk of permanent hearing impairment is several times higher than for other children. The neonatal ICU at Umeå University Hospital took this fact into account when it underwent renovations in 2010. The new unit is spacious, hygienic and – notably – more sound-friendly for premature babies.
In the new unit, each infant and its family are accommodated in a screened-off area. The ceiling is a sound-absorbent acoustic ceiling. Pieces of equipment that tend to produce false alarms have been removed, and the rest of the equipment is placed as far away from the child’s ears as possible. “We are finding that the noise levels in our unit have fallen dramatically, and as a result the staff are now less stressed,”
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