How This Special Therapy Helps ICU Patients

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

Listening to music can play a big role in helping patients in the intensive care unit (ICU).Maybe Shakespeare should have written “If music be the food of good health, play on.” It turns out that the simple act of listening to music can play a big role in helping patients in the most dire of circumstances: those in the intensive care unit (ICU).

The ICU is reserved for patients with life-threatening illnesses or injuries. These can include accidents that cause internal injuries, infections, complications after surgery, organ failure, and severe breathing problems. The ICU is populated with a special team of medical professionals who have been trained to work as a trauma team.

The ICU is filled with an intimidating array of ventilators, heart monitors, catheters, and other specialized equipment. All of this technology helps to monitor and maintain normal body functions, without which a patient will die.

And yet, despite the gravity of health issues seen in the ICU and the tremendous brain power and technological support that goes into saving a life, music may have an important role to play too. Music can become a powerful life-saving intervention in its own right.

According to a recent study, music is able to ease the worries and intense fear that can accompany a stay in the ICU. All of that life-saving equipment can cause anxiety for those who are already physically being pushed to their limits—and music can reduce that anxiety.

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Usually, ICU doctors and nurses reach for sedating medications to help patients manage anxiety. However, these drugs can trigger other unwanted symptoms by affecting the heart by lowering blood pressure or making it difficult for a patient to think clearly and communicate concerns. This prompted a team of researchers to try out music as an alternative therapy.

Almost 400 patients on breathing machines were divided into three groups. One group was supplied with headphones to listen to their favorite music. A second group wore headphones for the sole purpose of dampening the noise of machines and monitors in the ICU, while a third group received standard treatment.

What did the study results show? The music group was able to reduce their anxiety by almost 40%. They also reduced their need for anxiety meds by almost 40% too, compared to patients on breathing machines who had no music to listen to.

These results are significant and attest to the power of music to benefit emotional health and well-being. Music reaches similar places in the brain that anxiety and fear does—in effect, it can oust these emotions and take up space so that there’s less room for anxiety. It’s a sort of trade-off: less anxiety, more pleasurable and calming sensations in response to music. One key recommendation of the study: the music needs to be relaxing. Anything with a more aggressive tempo or intensity isn’t beneficial.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Taylor, P., “Music eases anxiety of hospital ICU patients, study finds,” the Globe and Mail web site, May 21, 2013;, last accessed June 4, 2013.
“How Music Affects Your Brain,” DNews web site;, last accessed June 4, 2013.
Chlan, L.L., et al., “Effects of Patient-Directed Music Intervention on Anxiety and Sedative Exposure in Critically Ill Patients Receiving Mechanical Ventilatory Support: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” JAMA. May 20, 2013:1-10.