Music therapy in critical care: indications and guidelines for intervention.


Have you ever been in a hospital, as a patient, for any reason?  If so, you know that a hospital is no place to get a rest.  A hospital is a noisy place with ambulances coming in and out, overhead paging of doctors and hospital information and patients and families conversing or perhaps in pain.

Then there are family members and visitors out in the halls, laughing, crying and talking loudly.  For people who are in ICU or PACU, it’s even harder because the patient feels so bad and is much sicker than they’ve ever been.

Music is such an easy intervention, especially headphones with a choice of favorite music.  And yet most hospitals still have the ubiquitous TV up on the wall with bad news, soap operas, etc. blasting away!  It really is quite inhumane I think! 

Just came across this bit of medical/nursing research on music in the hospital and wanted to share it with you immediately!

Crit Care Nurse. 1999 Jun;19(3):35-41.

University of Iowa, College of Nursing, Iowa City, USA.


Music therapy is an effective intervention for critically ill patients for such purposes as anxiety reduction and stress management. The therapy is readily accepted by patients and is an intervention patients thoroughly enjoy. The MAIT is one resource that nurses caring for critically ill patients can use to implement music therapy in clinical practice. Patients can be given the opportunity to select a musical tape they prefer and to negotiate with the nurse for uninterrupted music-listening periods. Allowing patients control over music selection and providing uninterrupted time for music listening gives the patients an enhanced sense of control in an environment that often controls them.


FAQ’s about type of music best for surgery


I frequently get questions about which music works best for surgery.  Unfortunately, that’s not a simple question because musical taste is so personal.  But, I can definitely give you a few insights into this process:

1.  What kind of music is best for surgery?

Research has shown that music that has a slow, steady tempo, like that of the healthy resting heart-beat is best.  Also, this music should be purely instrumental, i.e., no lyrics.  This is because lyrics engage the left side of the brain and we tend to start analyzing the music and not just relaxing.

2.  Is a person’s age a factor in choosing the best music?

Definitely!  People tend to like the music that they grew up with and therefore will relax best with music that they have positive associations with.  We will soon introduce music from a wide variety of eras.

3.  Does the type/genre of music matter?

What matters most is that the music be slow and steady with no lyrics.  Music that fits this description can be found in jazz, R & B, Easy Listening, New Age, classical and many others.

4.   What if the doctors are playing their own music?

Doctors have been playing music in the OR for several decades now.  Unfortunately, the music they usually play has a faster tempo than what the patient needs and oftentimes it has lyrics that are not really conducive to relaxation.

5.  Can I just download your music onto my iPod?

Absolutely.  The current surgery soundtrack has been chosen specifically because it matches all the above criteria.  The current music is classical piano music but has been chosen because the style is familiar but the specific pieces are largely unfamiliar.  This is because it’s possible that someone who has played a well-known piano piece (like Fur Elise) and had a memory slip or some other mistake, does not want to be reminded of that during surgery.  If a person has time and means to have a personal consult with me, we can create together their ideal playlist for surgery!

Hope this helps you with your decision of whether or not to use music during your surgery.  Knowning that something so simple can help you to use less anesthesia, less anxiety meds and less pain medication makes it a very attractive option!


Music during Surgery: Why and how?


Day by day, the general public is gradually becoming aware of how critically important music can be during a surgical procedure.  Whether it’s heart surgery, a joint replacement or a C-section, music can calm the patient so that fewer chemicals are needed, resulting in a safer surgery and a faster recovery.

Physicians have known since the times of ancient Greece and Rome that music is healing and that it can and should be prescribed along with other therapies and treatments.  But until recently, most people assumed that a patient was asleep during surgery and couldn’t hear the music or respond to it.  That’s why the only music playing in the operating room was the surgeon’s music. 

Now people are understanding that the human body responds to the pulse of strongly rhythmic music even when the patient is asleep.  This is the principle of entrainment or synchronization of bio-rhythms with musical rhythms.  To read more about all of this simply go to and read previous posts on this blog!


Surgical Pain and Proven Solutions


“In the USA alone over 53 million patients undergo surgical procedures
each year. Despite most patients receiving pain medication, 50-75% of
patients report that they experience inadequate pain control
(Datamonitor). Pain is the most commonly reported reason for
readmission to hospital within 30 days of discharge or for admission
directly after surgery. There is a substantial opportunity for novel
and innovative medicines to expand and segment this developing
Vernalis: Post Operative Pain: V1003

One of the most novel recent solutions is the development of the “Surgical Serenity Music Headphones.”  These headphones are designed to entrain, or synchronize the pulse of the music to the beat of the patients heart and breathing.  This keeps the patient relaxed, even when they’re asleep, and allows for less anesthesia to still keep the patient comfortable.  After the surgery, the patient continues wearing the headphones into recovery and there they usually require less pain medication.

This is a novel, effective and low-cost solution that definitely merits further research!

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