Research finds music delivered via wireless headphones can benefit patients on psychiatric unit

‘They are definitely being utilized as a way to help patients relax and help with anxiety and agitation,’ says Shoni Taylor, a UCLA Health nurse specialist

Studies have found exposure to relaxing music has positive results among people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia or mood disorders.

It was no surprise, then, when patients on an acute inpatient psychiatric unit at Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA reported a reduction in anxiety, agitation and other psychiatric symptoms after listening to music on wireless headphones.

In September 2020, Shoni Taylor, MSN, a nurse specialist in the adult psychiatric unit, and Adriene Creamer, RN, a clinical nurse II in the same unit, launched a project to measure the outcomes of providing such a service to their patients.

The nurses completed a literature review and submitted a project proposal to hospital leadership. Funds were allocated to purchase three wireless headphones and Spotify accounts. The headphones, and guidelines for their use, were placed on each unit for patients.

To measure outcomes, pre- and post-use questionnaires were completed by each patient who used the headphones. Anxiety, agitation and self-identified symptom levels were tracked before and after headphone use.

Decrease in agitation, anxiety

Between September 2020 and February 2021, hundreds of surveys were completed, Taylor says. Preliminary findings suggested a significant positive association between listening to music and a decrease in self-reported levels of agitation, anxiety/distress and symptoms.

For example, in one unit the agitation mean on a scale of 1-5 was rated 3.73 pre-test and 1.55 post-test; the anxiety/distress mean was rated 3.82 pre-test and 1.55 post-test; and the level of symptoms was 3.73 pre-test and 1.55 post-test.

Shoni Taylor, right, a nurse specialist at Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA, co-led a project to measure how listening to music affects anxiety, agitation and other psychiatric symptoms among patients. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)

The project grew out of an experience with an agitated patient, Taylor says. “He told us, ‘If I can listen to music, I’ll be fine,’” Taylor recounts. A nurse brought in a set of wireless headphones and the patient used them to listen to music. It appeared to relax him, and he was discharged soon after, she says.

“We thought this might be something we want to continue,” Taylor says.

Expanding the program

That proved to be a good decision.

In fact, the headphones have been so popular, three more sets have been purchased. Patients have found creative ways to use them, Taylor notes, including listening to podcasts and mindfulness programming.

In the post-survey period, staff continues to see positive outcomes from headphone use, she says. They have seen an overall decrease in restraints and seclusions, and acute patients are rating lower on DASA (Dynamic Appraisal of Situational Aggression), a tool that predicts the risk of a patient having an aggressive event.

“We can’t credit it all to headphones, but they are definitely being utilized as a way to help patients relax and help with anxiety and agitation,” Taylor says.

Jennifer Karmarkar is the author of this article.