waiting before cataract surgery

Reading about Surgical Serenity headphones and music before cataract surgery.

Are you having surgery soon? And have you heard all the chatter about how much music can improve your outcomes? Examples of important surgical outcomes are:

  • Stabilized blood pressure after surgery
  • Oriented to time and place after surgery
  • Stabilized body temperature
  • Able to be discharged to home sooner
  • Able to eat small, bland meals within a few hours

How is music able to do this?  The biggest reason is that when music is introduced prior to surgery, less anxiety and pain medication may be needed as well as less anesthesia.

But how do you go about choosing YOUR best music; the music that will decrease your anxiety and your pain perception. It can really be a daunting task because we’re all different and there are so many options.

Characteristics of music appropriate for surgery

Here are some characteristics of the ideal music for you:

  • Familiarity: The best music for surgery isn’t necessarily familiar music but it could be. The reason that familiarity is not necessarily a plus is because you might have a negative association with a piece that you know.
  • Tempo: It likely will not be music with a fast tempo although it could be somewhat upbeat. Music with a steady pulse is preferable so that your breathing and heartbeat can begin to synchronize with it.
  • Volume: It doesn’t have to be super soft or quiet, but it definitely won’t be loud. That’s because the music should be calming and loud music can be jarring and intrusive, even if you like it. Remember, you’re not going to dance to the music during surgery.
  • Lyrics: An instrumental version of a song, or a piece of music that was written for instruments alone would be best.  Lyrics can feel like too much when you’re filled with anxiety and feeling pain. And there are some lyrics that are negative.  Music should be like a warm, comforting blanket that a kind nurse lays over you while you’re waiting to be pushed into the operating theater.
  • Genre: Today there are many different types or genres of music.  The music genres that Surgical Serenity Solutions offers include Classical, Jazz, New Age, Lullabies, and Memory Care.  But there are hundreds of others, not to mention music from other cultures that utilize different instruments and musical scales. We have chosen the music that patients in the Western hemisphere seem to ask for the most.

What about “Binaural Beats” music?

The concept of “binaural beats” has been around since the 1830s but its application to surgery is relatively recent. What are binaural beats? Binaural beats occur when a different pitch is delivered to each ear, usually through headphones, and the brain automatically creates a third pitch that has a calming or possibly healing effect. There have been some studies demonstrating benefits from using binaural beats.

My preference is not to use binaural beats but instead to use more traditional therapeutic music that incorporates melodic phrases and steady, rhythmic patterns.  When this is done, the body’s natural rhythmic activity, such as heartbeat and breathing, synchronizes to the pulse of the music. This is called rhythmic entrainment.  Meanwhile beautiful music transports the patient from a place of fear and anxiety to a state of relaxation.

Binaural Beats or Rhythmic entrainment

While there are hundreds of studies available about benefits of calming music before and after surgery, there are only a few studies about binaural beats before and after surgery. Some people respond better to actual “music” whether classical, jazz, or New Age, while “binaural beats” are not really music.

According to WebMD “A binaural beat is an illusion created by the brain when you listen to two tones with slightly different frequencies at the same time.” They go on to say that

“There is a lack of clinical research for binaural beats. The evidence for the frequency-following effect is conflicting and inconclusive. Talk to your doctor before trying to use binaural beats for any health reasons.”

Claimed benefits of binaural beats include:

  • Increased creativity and cognitive enhancement
  • Reduced anxiety and improved mood
  • Helping you enter a meditative state
  • Improved sleeping habits
  • Helping to improve focus, attention, and memory retention

There are also potential side-effects…

Side effects of binaural beats (from WebMD)

Depression. Some studies have linked binaural beats to increased feelings of depression. Some people who listened to binaural beats experienced short bursts of anxiety, anger, and confusion that lasted for a short time.

However, there is inconclusive research supporting binaural beat as a stand-alone medical treatment tool. Binaural beat therapy can’t be used in place of conventional therapy, but it could be used as a complementary strategy if discussed with a doctor. Research shows that binary beats are good for mental health as it’s linked to encouraging positive feelings.As many binaural beats are freely available, the reactions to the beats vary from one individual to another. Individuals need to experiment with different binary beats to find ones that suit them. The effectiveness of binaural beats depends on the listener. Some people will find the beats effective. Others might find them irritating and unproductive.”

From my perspective as a music medicine practitioner and a clinical musicologist, I prefer to recommend actual music rather than binaural beats.  And most of my music therapy colleagues agree.

Back to the best kinds of music for your surgical experience

I’ve explained my reasons for preferring music that incorporates rhythmic entrainment by way of melodies and harmony and more traditional rhythms. In the long run, it becomes a question of musical preference and taste, also, there’s been much more scientific research using traditional music with surgery.

The music that serves you best during surgery is the music that will give you the results that you want.

If you feel that you can choose the right music based on the 5 criteria listed above AND if you have the time and ability to put together your own playlist for surgery, you can do that.  BUT, many, many people simply do not have the time to do that or that knowledge of how to do this.

That’s why Surgical Serenity Solutions decided back in 2005 to do it for you! So often, the need for surgery comes suddenly and without warning.

My story and why I started Surgical Serenity Solutions

This is what happened to me in 1995 when I was told that I needed back surgery for a ruptured disk.  I was shocked that nothing else could be done at that time.  Because I am a professional musician in addition to being a clinician, I literally stayed up all night creating a cassette tape that had my favorite calming, soothing music. I was also fortunate to have a neurosurgeon who was happy to let my bring that Walkman into surgery, along with headphones that plugged into it.  I’ll never forget him taping the Walkman to the operating table and saying that it would be safe there and not get in his way.

My outcomes were great and the surgical team all felt that the music had helped me to go through the surgery with less medication for anxiety and pain.  I had a pain pump afterwards but I never touched it!  I never needed it.

After I was home I started thinking about how many millions of people could benefit from music during their surgery but would likely have no clue how to make that happen.  In 2005 I had the idea to have headphones that could be pre-loaded with a chip inserted that would have the ideal slow, soothing music in different genres.

What is now ready and available for you to purchase so you don’t have to feel so helpless

Elderly patient wearing headphones after surgery

Woman relaxed wearing headphones before surgery

TODAY, we have the Surgical Serenity Solutions headphones available with Classical, Jazz, New Age, Lullabies and Memory Care music.  You can order them immediately for yourself here.  Or you can see if you hospital has already bought into our system.  Many have! You might also want to listen to a sample of each option here. Just scroll to the bottom of that page.

If you know how to make your own playlist, you can do that, put the music on a micro-SD card that you purchase, order our headphones,  and replace the SD card that comes with them.

Wishing you the best when you do have surgery, or dental work, or whatever medical procedure causes you anxiety.  It really works!