Study: The Effect of Music on Patient Anxiety in the ICU

Optimized-headphonesResearchers have provided some evidence for a possible phenomenon that many patients would already guess is true: listening to music could help to lower anxiety levels in stressful health-related situations. Specifically Ohio State University researchers looked at the impact that listening to songs, selected by the patients themselves, had on those who were on mechanical ventilators in the intensive care unit.

In addition to studying anxiety, the researchers wanted to look at music as an alternative to sedative medication. Allowing patients to choose their favorite music was key, said the study’s lead author Linda Chlan. Patients weren’t just stuck with “on hold” telephone music, for example.

“We’re trying to address the problem of over-sedation from a very different perspective, by empowering patients,” she said in a news release. Chlan is a distinguished professor of symptom management research in The Ohio State University’s College of Nursing and is a former ICU nurse.

The OSU team isn’t the only group of health care professionals interested in the effects that music has on the seriously ill. For example, the band NED — which stands for “no evidence of disease” — is a group of gynecologic oncology surgeons that tours the country singing original music to raise awareness of gynecologic cancers and to bring comfort to their patients and fans. The band’s drummer Nimesh Nagarsheth, MD, wrote a book “Music and Cancer: A Prescription for Healing” about the power of music in cancer care.

Chlan pointed out that there are federal guidelines when it comes to assessing patient pain levels. She’d also like to see guidelines to assess anxiety, a universal symptom in patients who have just received a serious diagnosis.

How the study was conducted

The study involved 373 patients in five hospitals across the Minneapolis-St. Paul region. Of them, 126 received the music intervention, 125 received usual care, and 122 had the option of using noise-canceling headphones. All of the patients were on ventilators and had been hospitalized for a number of different reasons, including lung problems or infections.

A music therapist assessed each patient in the intervention group to provide a collection of up to 1,000 songs that the patient enjoyed. During their shifts, nurses were told to prompt patients to listen to music. Along the way, patients expressed their anxiety by pointing to levels on a visual scale with the statements “not anxious at all” and “most anxious ever” on different ends of the continuum.

The results

After five days, on average, listening to music lowered patients’ anxiety by 36.5% compared to patients who didn’t listen to music. The music group’s sedative doses were reduced by 38%, and the sedatives’ intensity was reduced by 36%.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *