Document Type




Format of Original

10 p.

Publication Date



Oxford University Press

Source Publication

Journal of the American Medical Association

Source ISSN


Original Item ID

doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.5670; PubMed Central: PMCID 3683448


Importance: Alternatives to sedative medications, such as music, may alleviate the anxiety associated with ventilatory support.

Objective: To test whether listening to self-initiated patient-directed music (PDM) can reduce anxiety and sedative exposure during ventilatory support in critically ill patients.

Design, Setting, and Patients: Randomized clinical trial that enrolled 373 patients from 12 intensive care units (ICUs) at 5 hospitals in the Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota, area receiving acute mechanical ventilatory support for respiratory failure between September 2006 and March 2011. Of the patients included in the study, 86% were white, 52% were female, and the mean (SD) age was 59 (14) years. The patients had a mean (SD) Acute Physiology, Age and Chronic Health Evaluation III score of 63 (21.6) and a mean (SD) of 5.7 (6.4) study days.

Interventions: Self-initiated PDM (n = 126) with preferred selections tailored by a music therapist whenever desired while receiving ventilatory support, self-initiated use of noise-canceling headphones (NCH; n = 122), or usual care (n = 125).

Main Outcomes and Measures: Daily assessments of anxiety (on 100-mm visual analog scale) and 2 aggregate measures of sedative exposure (intensity and frequency).

Results: Patients in the PDM group listened to music for a mean (SD) of 79.8 (126) (median [range], 12 [0-796]) minutes/day. Patients in the NCH group wore the noise-abating headphones for a mean (SD) of 34.0 (89.6) (median [range], 0 [0-916]) minutes/day. The mixed-models analysis showed that at any time point, patients in the PDM group had an anxiety score that was 19.5 points lower (95% CI, −32.2 to −6.8) than patients in the usual care group (P = .003). By the fifth study day, anxiety was reduced by 36.5% in PDM patients. The treatment × time interaction showed that PDM significantly reduced both measures of sedative exposure. Compared with usual care, the PDM group had reduced sedation intensity by −0.18 (95% CI, −0.36 to −0.004) points/day (P = .05) and had reduced frequency by −0.21 (95% CI, −0.37 to −0.05) points/day (P = .01). The PDM group had reduced sedation frequency by −0.18 (95% CI, −0.36 to −0.004) points/day vs the NCH group (P = .04). By the fifth study day, the PDM patients received 2 fewer sedative doses (reduction of 38%) and had a reduction of 36% in sedation intensity.

Conclusions and Relevance: Among ICU patients receiving acute ventilatory support for respiratory failure, PDM resulted in greater reduction in anxiety compared with usual care, but not compared with NCH. Concurrently, PDM resulted in greater reduction in sedation frequency compared with usual care or NCH, and greater reduction in sedation intensity compared with usual care, but not compared with NCH.

Trial Registration: Identifier: NCT00440700

Critically ill mechanically ventilated patients receive intravenous sedative and analgesic medications to reduce anxiety and promote comfort and ventilator synchrony. These potent medications are often administered at high doses for prolonged periods and are associated with adverse effects such as bradycardia, hypotension, gut dysmotility, immobility, weakness, and delirium.1-3 Despite protocols and sedation assessment tools that guide clinicians, patients still experience significant levels of anxiety.4,5

Unrelieved anxiety and fear are not only unpleasant symptoms that clinicians want to palliate, but increased sympathetic nervous system activity can cause dyspnea and increased myocardial oxygen demand.6 Sustained anxiety and sympathetic nervous system activation can decrease the ability to concentrate, rest, or relax.6,7 Mechanically ventilated patients have little control over pharmacological interventions to relieve anxiety; dosing and frequency of sedative and analgesic medications are controlled by intensive care unit (ICU) clinicians. Interventions are needed that reduce anxiety, actively involve patients, and minimize the use of sedative medications.

Nonpharmacological interventions such as relaxing music are effective in reducing anxiety while reducing medication administration.8,9 Music is a powerful distractor that can alter perceived levels of anxiety10 by occupying attention channels in the brain with meaningful, auditory stimuli11 rather than stressful environmental stimuli. Listening to preferred, relaxing music has reduced anxiety in mechanically ventilated patients in limited trials.12-15 It is not known if music can reduce anxiety throughout the course of ventilatory support, or reduce exposure to sedative medications. We evaluated if a patient-directed music (PDM) intervention could reduce anxiety and sedative exposure in ICU patients receiving mechanical ventilation.


Accepted version. Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 309, No. 22 (2013): 2335-2344. DOI. © 2013 American Medical Association. Used with permission.

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