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Link Between Music and Health Benefits For Ventilated Patients Revealed by Drexel University Music Therapy Professor and Research Team

Philadelphia, PA, December 8, 2010

The benefits of listening to music for patients on mechanical ventilation have been revealed in a systematic review by a team of Cochrane researchers led by Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions associate professor Joke Bradt. The review found that listening to music may relax patients and potentially result in fewer complications. The results were published in The Cochrane Library.

Mechanical ventilation often causes major distress and anxiety in patients. The sensation of breathlessness, frequent suctioning, inability to talk, uncertainty regarding surroundings or condition, discomfort, isolation from others, and fear all contribute to high levels of anxiety. Medications administered to reduce anxiety may lead to increased hospital stays and medical costs.

“With all these factors making mechanical ventilation a highly stressful experience, it is exciting that music may provide a way to reduce anxiety in these patients without costly side effects,” said Bradt.

The researchers reviewed data from eight trials involving 213 patients in total. Patients, who had various conditions, including lung disease, cardiac disease and trauma injuries, all received mechanical breathing support via mouth, nose, or tracheotomy or artificial opening in the neck.

In seven trials, patients listened to pre-recorded music and in the remaining trial a trained music therapist provided live music with a tempo matched to the respiratory rate of the patient. On average, listening to music reduced anxiety compared to standard care. It also reduced heart and breathing rates, although not blood pressure.

“These results look promising, but we need more trials to strengthen the evidence and we would certainly be interested in seeing more research on live music interventions provided by trained music therapists,” said Bradt. “Since music listening is an easy treatment to provide, we do recommend that music be offered as a form of stress management for critically ill patients.”

Little information was available about the specific kinds of music that produced beneficial effects. “Except for mentioning general styles, such as classical and easy listening, most of the trials made no mention of the music selections used,” said Bradt. “In future trials, recording more detailed information about the music would help clinicians make better informed decisions about music selections. We recommend that medical personnel providing music to patients consult with a music therapist to understand what type of music may be best for a particular patient. Likewise, music therapists need to collaborate with medical personnel to carefully monitor the patients’ physiological responses to the music.”

Joke Bradt, an associate professor of creative arts therapies in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, was quoted in a story in dozens of news media outlets including BBC News and Reuters, and at least 20 NBC-TV affiliates around the country on December 8, 2010 about her research on the benefits of listening to music for patients on mechanical ventilation.