Musical interventions can provide “psychological first aid” to stressed patients during lockdown

A violinist playing a soothing tune tailored to a patient’s particular health condition and personal musical preferences in the hospital can provide “psychological first aid,” reports a new study from Northwestern Medicine of neurological patients who have received telemusic therapy during the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an era when patients in the neuroscience unit were isolated from their loved ones, a musical intervention improved patients’ emotional states, reduced stress and anxiety, and provided an enjoyable experience, the study showed.

Musical interventions, and in this case tele-music, can affect the emotional well-being of patients, their families, the healthcare team and improve patient care. “

Dr Borna Bonakdarpour, lead study author, professor of neurology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and Northwestern Medicine neurologist

The study will be published in Frontiers in Neurology December 13.

“The impact of the results can be applied to patients beyond the neuroscience unit to include other specialties and other hospitals,” Bonakdarpour said. “Music as a clinical tool is underused in ambulatory settings and in hospitals. “

Patients said they felt emotionally supported. The music woke up their speech and prompted them to dance in their hospital beds despite their neurological disability for which they were admitted. The aesthetic experience, which is not usually associated with hospital stays, empowered patients and their families and facilitated medical procedures as patients were less anxious and more cooperative. Patients in emotional distress often require more care from nurses and, according to nurses’ testimonies, patients who received the music intervention were more satisfied with their stay.

Study participants were offered a 30-minute live music session on FaceTime by a clinically trained violist in consultation with a music therapist and certified music practitioner. The music used for the procedures was personalized for the patient. Participants were assessed with the Music Assessment Tool where they indicated their musical preferences and the music they opposed. After the intervention, participants responded to a questionnaire assessing the impact of music on their emotional state on a scale of 1 to 10. Scores were then averaged for all patients and calculated as a percentage.

Eighty-seven sessions were performed over a three-month period. Despite varying degrees of disability, most patients had a significantly positive response to the music session. They agreed that the intervention improved their emotional state (92%); that it provided a pleasant experience (92.4%); and that it reduced their stress and anxiety (89.5%).

“Our study underscores the importance of demographically and clinically informed musical and artistic interventions for patients as an essential part of their care,” said Bonakdarpour.

This pilot project serves as a prelude to a more in-depth study of how musical interventions can support patients admitted to neurology. Northwestern scientists are studying the effect of music in patients with epilepsy and dementia using specific physiological measures (heart rate, functional MRI, brain wave tests).


Journal reference:

Bonakdarpour, B., et al. (2021) Neurology telemusic program at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic: transforming hospital time into aesthetic time during the crisis. Frontiers in Neurology.

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