It is common for critically ill patients on life support to develop delirium, a form of acute brain failure for which no effective treatment is known. A study from Indiana University School of Medicine and Regenstrief Institute researchers reports that music appears to decrease delirium in patients on mechanical ventilators in the intensive care unit (ICU).
In the study, critically ill individuals who listened to slow-tempo, relaxing music (60 to 80 beats per minute) had decreased need for sedatives, fewer days of delirium and were more awake — enabling them to receive physical therapy earlier. These results are encouraging and a larger clinical trial is currently underway.
Mechanically ventilated patients — more than a million adults annually in the United States — are at increased risk for delirium, which is associated with prolonged ICU stays, higher healthcare costs and increased mortality. The intubated patient experiences pain, anxiety and physiologic stress for which they usually are treated with drugs, which can contribute to delirium. This perpetuates a cycle of pain, anxiety, sedation and delirium.