Researchers from the Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute are joining forces with the Mayo Clinic to determine if music can decrease delirium in older patients who are on mechanical ventilation.

The National Institutes of Health has announced a nearly $2 million grant for the music-related research, which will be awarded over the next five years.

In the first study of its kind, researchers will evaluate the effectiveness of seven days of slow-tempo classical music in reducing delirium, a form of acute brain failure. They’ll examine patients, age 65 and older, who are in the Intensive Care Unit and on a ventilator.

“We do not know for certain why the majority of ICU patients on mechanical ventilation develop delirium but studies conducted by our group and others have clearly shown that drugs do not decrease the likelihood of developing this horrific brain failure that could lead to dementia,” said Dr. Babar Khan, a co-principal investigator of the study.

Khan says half of the 160 study participants will be exposed to the relaxing music through noise cancellation headphones for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. 

The other half of the study participants will simply be given noise cancellation headphones for the same amount of time.

This will help scientists compare the effects of music on delirium with simple noise cancellation.

“The study will explore if the low-cost, uncomplicated introduction of music in the ICU by a nurse or other staff member could be easily integrated into current ICU patient management and break the cycle of sedation and stress that negatively affects cognition in the aging brain,” Dr. Khan said.

Khan says about a million adults in the U.S. receive mechanical ventilation each year and as many as 80 percent could develop delirium.