March 16, 2017

Ambient music in the ICU ' to induce calm and a space to think'

Tripping in the ICU  For those suffering the trauma of intensive care, the soothing swoosh of otherworldly ambient music can be a welcome gift.

The noise of life-support machines and vital-sign monitors is a constant background. Phones ring, bin lids bang, staff call for help and doctors are constantly being paged to the next emergency. The racket frequently exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for safe noise levels......In patients who are heavily sedated and on ventilators, rates of ICU delirium are as high as 80 per cent. ...An intensive-care stay can be a psychological and physical trauma; invaded on all sides, the body feels like it is being murdered....

A recent study showed that a quarter of ICU patients with a particular life-threatening respiratory condition had signs of PTSD six months after discharge...The evidence points to sedation as the culprit....Good reason, then, for reversing the policy of heavy sedation. But, for all the worthy intentions, critically ill patients were now coming to their senses in a suburb of hell. The former patient Taylor noted the horrible irony that her hearing was pretty much the only one of her senses that was preserved.
Music has begun to emerge as a specifically powerful therapeutic medium. ...A problem is that one person’s easy listening is another’s aural poison. ....

Ambient music. Instead of distinctive rhythms, it gives us shifting periodicities. The melodies of pop command the attention, and we want our ambient performance to be there and yet not there at the same time. In the words of its greatest modern pioneer, Brian Eno, ‘ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.’ This is music aimed simultaneously at both the centre and the periphery of experience. It’s about what you don’t play as much as what you do.

Brian Eno wrote that ambient music ‘is intended to induce calm and a space to think’. It is not music for tapping your foot to. It’s music designed to take you into another mental space....

Rhythmic unpredictability is only one of the things going on. By not commanding the listener’s attention, ambient music frees the mind to wander.  It’s that potential to set minds wandering that lies behind our art project. Behind the chilled-out purveyor of ambient sounds, there’s an inquiring researcher looking for what might just lead to a clinical development. In my part-time academic post, I research inner experience: everyday phenomena such as mind-wandering, and more unusual mental happenings such as hallucinations. Both of these extremes can be encompassed in the experience of ICU patients, whose bodies can appear to be doing not very much at all, but whose minds are often far from restful.
Posted by Jill Fallon at March 16, 2017 3:07 PM | Permalink