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ICUHear - Live Music in Intensive Care: Beyond the Bleeps

“The critical care environment is at times chaotic, loud, busy and stressful. This is changed in an instant to that of calmness, concentration, relaxation and quietness simply by the presence of the musicians and their performance”.

– Cath Applewhite, Patient Experience Lead and Critical Care Sister, Manchester Royal Infirmary

The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is full of sensory experiences that can be overwhelming. Bright lights, unfamiliar equipment, ventilation, alarms beeping and phones ringing are all part of the 24 hour aural landscape. Patients may or may not be conscious, but the sense of hearing may still be functioning. The response to awakening in the ICU environment can often be that of fear and confusion.


Music aims to reduce these feelings of disorientation for patients in the ICU, transforming the critical care setting into a more familiar and domestic environment. As reported by the patient quoted below, music can provide a calming and reassuring presence. 


“I was lying on a bed, unable to speak, when I heard live cello and flute playing, easy on the ear, harmonious, melodic. It blocked out the hospital noise, reminding me I had a life to go back to.” Anonymous patient: Music in the ICU


Music in the ICU is being trialled in hospitals across the globe. The presence of music isn’t just being praised positively by patients, hospital staff are also emphasising a need for music in hospitals. Trialled in Desenzano, Italy, the health care team welcomed the initiative, saying how “Live music performance seems like something unexpected in the ICU. But to relatives, it’s a sign that the ICU team really takes care of all aspects of patients’ well-being, and it helps to build a deep and special relationship with critically ill patients and their families”. 


At hospitals across the UK, music is proving to be an invaluable addition to care. At times of concern and of celebration, music can bring people together. You can see here the impact of live music in the ICU in Aberdeen Hospital:

For more examples of music in the intensive care unit, search the hashtag #ICUHear 

If you’d prefer to watch a video on the impact of music in Intensive Care, feel free to click on the link below to watch a 5 minute video: 

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Photo by Music in Hospitals and Care


Photo by Donn Jones

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Launched in 2016 at Manchester Royal Infirmary, ICU Hear is an award-winning approach developed by Music in Hospitals & Care, which uses music to improve patient-centred care on critical care wards. Trained musicians use gentle, calming music, sensitively delivered at the bedside to help reduce stress and anxiety for patients and their families. The music helps to support the challenging clinical environment and creates a relaxing soundscape for critical care patients during their recovery.


You can read more about the work of ICUHear by clicking the button:

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