Soundscape to Improve the Experience of People with Dementia; Considering How They Process Sounds

Arezoo Talebzadeh – arezoo.talebzadeh@ugent.be
X (twitter): @arezoonia
Instagram: @arezoonia
Ghent University, Technology Campus, iGent, Technologiepark 126, Gent, Gent, 9052, Belgium

Dick Botteldooren and Paul Devos
Ghent University
Technology Campus, iGent, Technologiepark 126
Gent, Gent 9052
Belgium

Popular version of 2aNSb7 – Soundscape Augmentation for People with Dementia Requires Accounting for Disease-Induced Changes in Auditory Scene Analysis.
Presented at the 186th ASA Meeting
Read the abstract at https://eppro02.ativ.me/web/index.php?page=IntHtml&project=ASASPRING24&id=3673959

–The research described in this Acoustics Lay Language Paper may not have yet been peer reviewed–

Sensory stimuli are significant in guiding us through space and making us aware of time. Sound plays an essential role in this awareness. Soundscape is an acoustic environment as perceived and experienced by a person. A well-designed soundscape can make the experience pleasant and improve moods; in contrast, an unfamiliar and chaotic soundscape can increase anxiety and stress. We aim to discuss different auditory symptoms of dementia and introduce ways to design an augmented soundscape to foster individual auditory needs.

People with dementia suffer from a neurodegenerative disorder that leads to a progressive decline in cognitive health. Behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia refer to a group of noncognitive behaviours that affect the prediction and control of dementia. Reducing the occurrence of these symptoms is one of the main goals of dementia care. Environmental intervention is the best nonpharmacological treatment to improve the behaviour of people with dementia.

People with severe dementia usually live in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, or memory care units where sensory perception is unfamiliar. Strange sensory stimuli add to residents’ anxiety and distress, as care facilities are often not customized based on individual needs. Studies show that incorporating pleasant sounds into the environment, known as an ‘augmented soundscape,’ positively impacts behaviour and reduces the psychological syndrome of dementia. Sound augmentation can also help a person navigate through space and identify the time of the day. By implementing sound augmentation as part of the design, we can enhance mood, reduce apathy, lower anxiety and stress, and promote health. People with dementia experience changes in perception, including misperceptions, misidentifications, hallucinations, delusions, and time-shifting. Sound augmentation can support a better understanding of the environment and help with daily navigation. In the previous study by the research team, implementing soundscape in nursing homes and dementia care units showed a promising result in reducing the psychological symptoms of dementia.

It’s crucial to recognize that dementia is not a singular entity but a complex spectrum of degenerative diseases. For example, environmental sound agnosia—the difficulty in understanding non-speech environmental sounds—is common in some with frontotemporal dementia. Therefore, sound augmentation should be focused on non-complicated sounds. Amusia, another type of dementia, is when a person cannot recognize music; thus, playing music is not recommended for this group.

Dementia

Each type of dementia presents with its unique set of symptoms, including a variety of auditory manifestations. These can range from auditory hallucinations and disorientation to heightened sound sensitivity, agnosia for environmental sounds, auditory agnosia, amusia, and musicophilia. Understanding these diverse syndromes of auditory perception is critical when designing a soundscape augmentation for individuals with dementia.