Personal soundscapes full of familiar noises may improve quality of life for dementia patients

MELVILLE, N.Y. — For those living with dementia, having constant reminders of familiar people, places, and things play a crucial role in everyday life. Just as familiar sights can jog someone’s declining memory, a new study finds familiar sounds can do the same thing. A researcher from Ghent University in Belgium says a dementia patient’s quality of life can improve through using a personal “soundscape” of familiar noises.

Simple sounds that they recognize, such as birds singing or the patter of rain, can reduce the symptoms of the debilitating illness, according to the new report. Study authors explain that designing a personal soundscape focuses on putting the patient’s perception “at the heart” of the process. However, it becomes trickier for people who have diminished cognitive capacities.

Arezoo Talebzadeh, a Ghent University PhD student, says a personalized soundscape can help those with dementia by providing clues regarding the time of day and place. Using a system called AcustiCare, researchers create the soundscape with a customized algorithm that plays scheduled sounds at specific moments throughout the day. Through user feedback, the system can refine the sounds it plays the following day, helping to reinforce time and space for dementia patients.

“The sounds consist of a collection of natural sounds, birdsongs, outdoor sounds, water/rain sounds and kitchen sounds, music, bell sound, and similar. From these sounds, psychoacoustic parameters and metadata is used to obtain similarity information between the different sounds. This information is used to suggest a new sound related to the feedback findings,” Talebzadeh says in a media release.

Can soundscapes replace the reliance on dementia medications?

The study author adds his research aims to discover the correlation between psychoacoustic environments and mood change; hoping to trigger responses that elicit feelings of safety. Talebzadeh believes soundscapes could improve the quality of life of people with dementia by improving sleep quality, reducing agitation, anxiety, and distress.

The technology may also help reduce both the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, as well as lower the dependency on psychoactive drugs and relieve stress on caregivers.

“One of the environmental factors is the infrastructure of care facilities,” Talebzadeh concludes. “Various modifications are possible to support a dementia-friendly environment that can also contribute to preventing or reducing behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Sound is one of the environmental factors.”

Researchers presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.

SWNS writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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