Soundscape evaluations in two critical healthcare settings with different designs

Selen Okcu, Erica E. Ryherd, Craig Zimring, Owen Samuels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Intensive care units (ICUs) have important but challenging sound environments. Alarms and equipment generate high levels of noise and ICUs are typically designed with hard surfaces. A poor sound environment can add to stress and make auditory tasks more difficult for clinicians. However few studies have linked more detailed analyses of the sound environment to nurse wellbeing and performance. This study is aimed at understanding the relationships between objective acoustic measures and self-reported nurse outcomes. Two 20-bed ICUs with similar patient acuity and treatment models were tested: A recently built neurological ICU and a 1980s-era medical-surgical ICU. The medical-surgical ICU was perceived as louder, more annoying, and having a greater negative impact of noise on work performance, health outcomes, and anxiety as compared to the neurological ICU. Surprisingly, there were little differences between two ICU sound environments based on traditional overall noise measures. The objective differences between the occupied sound environments in the two units only emerged through a more comprehensive analysis of the occurrence rate of peak and maximum levels, frequency content, and the speech interference level. Furthermore, mid-level transient sound occurrence rates were significantly and positively correlated to perceived annoyance and loudness levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1348-1358
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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