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Jim on boat

Seniors and Noise Pollution

Jim’s boat is only noisy when it goes full-throttle.
He usually enjoys a much calmer ride around the lake.
Less noise. Less fuel.

There have always been noises around us from our earliest days. However, as we age we seem to become more aware of it and the ways it affects us. The common measurement of noise by decibels seems to affirm that this fast paced world relishes in louder music, movies, ceremonies, entertainment games, restaurants, and yes, even hospitals.

You are beginning to see more articles on noise pollution, how it can negatively affect our lives and physical and psychological health, government actions to address it, and recommendations how we can deal with it personally. These come up in medical journals, periodic publications, and even articles from economy directed publications.

As we age, one of the senses that many of us find diminishing is that of hearing. Yes, there are hearing devices to assist but many times loud surroundings leave them ineffective. At a recent get-together of many people, I found the loud talking around me made it quite difficult to cull through the background noises to hear my friends (even though they were close to me). So let’s look further into this type of contemporary pollution.

In my research I found that there are many (about 10,000) tiny hair cells inside our ears. The purpose of these cell hairs is to convert sounds we hear into electrical impulses. These then travel to the brain and we decipher them for understanding and any action(s). Noise exposure to sounds at or over 85 decibels, however, can damage or destroy these hair cells within our hearing organ, primarily at the base of the cochlea, or spiral cavity of our ears. One of the results was my issue mentioned above – the problem noted in background noise. In addition, researchers have found that loud noises can damage those delicate nerve endings that transfer the signals from the hair cells to the brain. Inflammation can result and further study is being done on how this might be linked to such problems as dementia.

Physical damage of loud noise pollution over time includes increased and extended heart rates and hypertension, sleep disturbances, elevation of cortisol production, elevated adrenaline levels, changes to our immune system (due to stress hormone increased production), and even various heart conditions (vasoconstriction, heart rhythm, and myocardial infarction).

Noise pollution can also be harmful to our psychological well-being. It can lead to anxiety and mood irritability and minimize our efforts to apply calming methodologies. Studies into impacts against our ability to focus, child irritability and PTSD showed positive correlations of loud noise as psychological triggers. Ever walk out of one of the “pounding/everything comes at you/loud noise” movies and feel drained both physically and mentally? Yep, noise pollution!

A noise irritant to me is the high decibels of noise found in so many of our restaurants today. While studies show there are benefits to the restaurants to reflect a fun and exciting atmosphere, it makes peaceful dining very difficult. You cannot understand what the person across from you has said, your anxiety level can increase, and the taste of the food can even be affected. In fact, the Zagat National Dining Trends Survey identified noise to be the top complaint about restaurants.

Research into healing and noise impact has identified it as an item to be reduced to increase the environmental quality, and the ultimate hospital quality of patient care. Studies show that noise levels above 55 decibels can interfere with sleep and even be an aspect of heart disease risk. Many experts note that the target noise level should be 30 or below. In addition to the harm to patients, staff fatigue is a product of excessive noise in hospital areas.

In the United States Congress passed the Noise Control Act of 1972 to promote an environment free from noise that jeopardizes Americans health and welfare. However the Environmental Protection Agency phased out funding and transferred the responsibility to individual States and local governments. For information on areas, you can go to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics to get the National Transportation Noise Map.

Things we can do include:

  • Request the noise level for hospitals and other health care institutions.
  • Check on line to find the dining noise in decibels of restaurants. More on-line and listed information of restaurants now include this statistic.
  • When in an area you know has a decibel level exceeding 85, wear protective hearing equipment or simply chose another restaurant. Recently on an airboat tour we were given ear covers to protect us from the excessive noise.
  • Request information on the level of noise in a movie you intend to see.
  • Utilize pleasing background noise; sometimes called false noise.
  • Look for more privacy in a location or restaurant.
  • Support the creation of better sound environments and soundscapes in the community.
  • Support governmental efforts to reduce noise pollution that can affect us and our families.

As with all things pollution-wise, at times you give up something to gain something considered better. However, as more studies show the negative effects of noise pollution, it behooves us to do what we can to lessen this harmful factor in our lives.