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View this article on the McKnights Long Term Care News website.

Intubated individuals who listened to slow-tempo music had fewer days of delirium and were more awake than their peers who did not, according to a recent pilot study. The researchers are seeking an alternative to sedative drugs to improve outcomes in these patients.

Study participants were placed in three groups, listening either to slow-tempo music (60 to 80 beats per minute), music of their own preference as chosen by surrogates, or audiobook recordings. The therapy was provided twice daily via headphones.

Patients exposed to slow-tempo music had a reduced need for sedatives, fewer days of delirium and were more awake, shortening the time to physical therapy. In addition, study subjects associated the music with calm feelings, and 80% of those surveyed rated the music as enjoyable, wrote Sikandar Khan, D.O., M.S., from the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute.

More than a million adults undergo mechanical ventilation in the United States each year. These individuals are at increased risk for delirium, a problem linked to prolonged care duration, higher healthcare costs and increased mortality, the researchers reported.

“Recent studies by our group and others have shown that drugs, including commonly prescribed antipsychotics, do not treat delirium or reduce its severity, so we desperately need a non-pharmacologic treatment,” Khan said. “Our pilot study shows that music may hold promise to help save patients’ brains and allow them to experience less stress while critically ill.”

Trial results were published in the American Journal of Critical Care, and a larger clinical trial is currently underway.