Tag Archive: babies

The effect of noise and comforting sound on humans

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

I am a regular reader of the New York Times Tuesday Science section and was delighted to see two references to sound in the In Brief Section by Nicholas Bakalar on November 3rd (print version). In his brief titled “Noise May Raise Dementia Risk” Bakalar cites a study linking noise to increased risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. The authors, conducting a study on aging, looked at residents living in communities, both quiet and noisy, and found that community noise level resulted in a higher likelihood of cognitive impairment, as well as a risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The lead author, Jennifer Weuve, could only hypothesize about the connection but she suggested that excessive noise can result in sleep deprivation, hearing loss and changes in blood pressure—“all of which are associated with an increased risk for dementia.”

With so many people living longer lives today, this study suggests further research into the potential impact of long-term noise on one’s mental health. However, as stated numerous times before, there is enough evidence on the hazards of noise to our mental and physical health to warrant lessening noise pollution NOW.

The second brief is titled “Children: Not Picky About Lullabies” and cites a study led by Bainbridge and Bertolo in which the researchers found that lullabies, sung in many different languages and from different cultures, relaxed young infants. That infants can be calmed by songs from different languages, different cultures and different voices may also indicate that humans at the start do not center on differences amongst groups but upon similarities, namely the comforting sounds emanating from their voices.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

The best ear protection for babies and toddlers

Photo credit: Fimb licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As a newly minted grandfather, I worry even more about the world and the future, and what it will hold for our grandson and for all children and grandchildren, especially about keeping him safe and healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics have lots of advice about avoiding sun exposure, but little to nothing about avoiding noise exposure.

This report reviews four earmuff-style hearing protective devices–that’s the correct term, not headphones–that are good for babies and toddlers.

A few quibbles. The article doesn’t state how these were evaluated. NIOSH and OSHA evaluate hearing protective devices and assign a Noise Reduction Rating-NRR, but this evaluation appears to be the opinion of one audiologist.

And while I’m glad that the industrial-strength 85 decibel sound exposure level wasn’t mentioned as the noise level at which hearing damage occurs, the 70 decibel standard cited may be too low. Sound above 70 decibels for short time periods probably won’t cause hearing loss. It’s a time-weighted average sound exposure of 70 decibels for the whole day that prevents noise-induced hearing loss. Noise dose calculators like this one can help one understand what constitutes safe noise exposures.

More information about noise and children’s hearing is provided by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

Parents and grandparents should remember that to protect children’s hearing, if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

Common recreational activities, including using certain toys, birthday and other parties with amplified music, sports events, air shows, car races, and children’s action movies, are often dangerously loud.

And headphones should probably not be used by children for personal music players or digital devices, with or without an 85 decibel volume limit.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Attention parents-to-be: your baby can hear in utero!

Photo credit: lunar caustic licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Zayan Guedim, Edgy Labs, writes about a University of Kansas study that has determined that “[n]ot only can babies hear in utero…they [actually] start developing language sensitivity while in the womb.” Guedim notes that hearing is “the acutest sense of the fetus,” which can start to perceive sounds even before “the auditory cortex is fully developed.” By 16 weeks, “the fetal sense of hearing begins.” At first the fetus can perceive sounds but it cannot interpret them, but that changes from week 23, when “the fetus will hear ‘sounds’ to which it reacts by movement, accelerated heart rate or turning its head.”  What kind of sounds get the fetus’ attention? “High-pitched sounds, like a barking dog or a horn, will get the baby’s attention more than, say, soft background music.”

So, how sophisticated is a fetus’s sense of hearing? Guedim writes that “[i]t’s already established that newborns get familiarized with their parents’ native language and react differently to foreign languages.” But now, research by the University of Kansas Department of Linguistics suggests that “the fetus can distinguish between different languages” and will show “an inclination to the language they would acquire after birth–the one they’re used to hear during gestation.”

The study also confirms that “the baby reacts to the mother’s voice more than anything else, because “[u]nlike other voices and sounds that travel through the air, the mother’s voice reverberates through her bones and internal tissues that act as amplifiers.”

So mothers-to-be, speak clearly because someone is most assuredly listening in.