For critically ill patients who need ventilator support, listening to some favorite tunes could help quell anxiety levels, according to a new study.

Researchers from Ohio State University found that patients who were on acute ventilatory support because of respiratory failure had decreased anxiety when they listened to their favorite music, compared with usual care. They also required less intense and less frequent sedation when they were listening to the music.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, included 373 people from 12 intensive care units in Minnesota, who all had respiratory failure and needed to be put on ventilatory support. They spent an average of 5.7 days being part of the study.

Researchers had 126 of the participants listen to music whenever they wanted as they were getting the ventilatory support, with the help of a music therapist. Another 122 of them were able to use noise-canceling headphones whenever they wanted but not music, and the other 125 just got the usual care.

They found that those who listened to the music had lower anxiety levels than those who received the typical care. They also found that those who used the noise-canceling headphones had lower anxiety levels. However, the patients who listened to music required less frequent sedatives than those who used the noise-canceling headphones.

“Reducing anxiety and amount of sedation in mechanically ventilated patients is of the utmost importance, particularly because the result may be a decrease in the post-ICU burden, which weighs heavily on many patients, as well as numerous complications related to sedation,” wrote¬† researchers from the Universite Paris-Diderot, who did not conduct the study, in an accompanying editorial in JAMA. “The trial by Chlan et al provides preliminary data that create new possibilities for improving the well-being of ICU patients.”

This is hardly the first time music therapy has been shown to be a powerful tool in decreasing anxiety. Health magazine reported on a 2011 study from Drexel University researchers, showing that listening to music, playing an instrument or singing could help decrease anxiety and pain and boost mood in cancer patients. And a study published earlier this year in the journal Psychology of Music showed that choir singing could help decrease anxiety levels, too.

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