Live music to reduce discomfort intensive care patients

May 2019 Healthy Living Eline Feenstra
Doctor hand holding ukulele (musical instrument), Music therapy concept. (Selective Focus)

Music might positively influence physical and emotional wellbeing. Therefore, University hospital Gent recently introduced live music sessions at the intensive care unit and burn centre.

After being admitted to the hospital, patients and their families often experience a lot of stress, both physically and mentally. Sometimes this stress will even remain after hospitalization. This type of stress is called post intensive care syndrome, PICS in short.

In order to reduce PICS in these patients, psychologist Bo Van den Bulcke from Gent University, and  Willem Wittenberg from the Neder-over-Heembeek burn centre, initiated live music sessions at the hospital.

Nowadays, several professional musicians are part of the project, playing cello, guitar, clarinet and violin. The musicians underwent special education. They do not play a concert but adapt their melody and timing to the reactions of the patients. Music is used as a therapy.

Multiple physical parameters are measured during the therapy, such as heart rate, pain and breathing frequency. To determine the mental state of the patients, questionnaires are used, focussing on anxiety and depression.

The first reactions are promising: patients and their families respond well to the project. Earlier studies already showed the effectiveness of music as a therapy for physical and mental stress. For example, a recent study showed that live harp music in a critical care unit could result in a 27 percent decrease of pain.

The use of musical therapy as a target to reduce stress is becoming more and more popular. The therapy is currently available in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.


  1.  UZGent
  2. Chaisson AM, Baldwin AL, McGlaughlin C et al. (2013) The effect of live spontaneous harp music on patients in the intensive care unit. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2013: 428731.