Conference Coverage

Music shows promise for inpatient agitation



– In a proof-of-concept study, music provided an alternative to oral psychotropic medication in calming agitated patients at an inpatient psychiatric facility. Music has been studied as a treatment for agitation in dementia patients but not so much in psychiatric patients, according to Trevor Scudamore, MD, who is a resident fellow at State University of New York, Syracuse.

Jim Kling/MDedge News

Coauthors of the study on using music to treat agitation in psychiatric inpatients included Dr. Nekpen S. Ekure (far left), Dr. Trevor Scudamore, and Dr. Christopher Botash.

“The other thing is that music has been more looked at in group therapy settings than as adjunct therapy, or as an option as an as-needed medication for agitation,” Dr. Scudamore said in an interview. He presented the study at a poster session at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

When agitation arose, the program allowed patients to choose between an oral medication or music, which entailed a 30-minute session listening to a preset playlist using a wireless headphone. Playlist options included a variety of musical genres, and participants could sit in one place or roam around while listening.

Traditionally, agitated patients had the choice of an oral medication. If the patient refused and then escalated, they had to accept an intravenous medication. “Now there’s a choice between an oral medication and music, almost like a third layer in defusing agitation in the patient. If they refuse music, then they could go for oral medication, and then [IV medication]. They’re given a little bit more options. Maybe they don’t feel so confined, which is an interesting way of helping possibly defuse anxiety from a situation. That needs to be explored further,” Dr. Scudamore said.

The study had a two-phase, cross-sectional design. The first 3 months, the study included 71 patients, who were used to establish a baseline of agitation and psychotropic medication use. They introduced the music intervention during the second 3-month period, with 101 participants. After they listened to music, the patients completed a self-report form using the Likert scale, and nursing staff observed the patients status during the initial anxiety/agitation, while they listened to music, and 15 minutes after the listening session.

That need for commitment from nurses presented a challenge to implementation. They had to hand out headphones, keep track of them, and make sure they got the headphones back. “It is a lot more work than just giving 50 mg of hydroxyzine,” said coauthor Christopher Botash, MD, who also is a resident at the university.

Study participants had a range of psychiatric ills, including substance abuse (61%), depression (51%), psychosis (28%), trauma (26%), personality disorder (20%), and anxiety (17%).

As part of a preliminary report, the researchers presented data from surveys completed by nine nurses and 31 patients. After the music implementation, the average length of stay declined (10.49 to 8.20 days; difference, 2.29 days), as did the median length of stay (6.5 to 5.0 days). The two most commonly prescribed antipsychotics saw a decrease in administrations, from 3.37 to 2.93/month for haloperidol, and from 3.83 to 2.73 administrations/month for olanzapine.

A total of 56% of the nursing staff stated that the music therapy program helped calm down the patients. Nurses who disagreed cited the tendency for patients to intrude at the nursing station asking for the music, though this improved as patients learned the routine. Ninety-six percent of the patients reported satisfaction with the experience.

It was challenging for the researchers to implement the study, since offering music was a break in the routine. “The staff really does rely a lot on the meds, so oftentimes we would have to say, ‘Hey, have you offered the music yet?’ It’s a bit of a culture change,” Dr. Botash said.

The study, which Dr. Scudamore and Dr. Botash coauthored with Nekpen S. Ekure, MD, did not receive external funding. Dr. Scudamore and Dr. Botash had no relevant financial disclosures.

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