Music Lowers Eye-Surgery Patients' Cardiovascular, Emotional Stress

By Lois Baker

Release Date: March 20, 1997 This content is archived.


Santa Fe, N.M. -- Older adults who listened to their choice of music during out-patient eye surgery had significantly lower heart rate, blood pressure and cardiac work load than patients who did not listen to music, a new study by researchers at the University at Buffalo has shown.

In addition, when asked to rate how the surgery affected them, the music-listeners rated themselves significantly less anxious and significantly better at coping with the experience than their non-music-listening colleagues.

Karen Allen, Ph.D., a pioneer researcher on the effect of music on cardiovascular response to stress, and Lawrence Golden, M.D., UB clinical professor of medicine, presented the study here today (March 20, 1997) at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society.

Music was responsible for two effects, both important to successful surgery, Allen said: It decreased stress on the cardiovascular system and helped patients to relax.

"If this were a drug intervention, people would be clamoring for it," said Allen, a research scientist in the UB Department of Medicine and Millard Fillmore Health System. "Patients like it, it's cheap and effective, and has no negative side effects. Hospitals could offer it and be heroes to their patients."

Forty cataract or glaucoma patients ranging in age from 51-88 took part in the study. They were divided into two groups, each composed of 15 women and five men. Two participating surgeons treated half of each group.

Patients in the experimental group listened to music of their choice through headphones before, during and after surgery. Those in the control group did not listen to music at any time. Allen and colleagues measured blood pressure and heart rate in all patients one week before their surgery date, on the morning of surgery, and every five minutes during the preoperative, surgery and postoperative periods. An electrocardiogram was taken before and after each period as well.

Heart rate and blood pressure of all patients shot up the morning of surgery, Allen said, indicating that ambulatory surgery may be more stressful in this population than commonly believed. These measures of cardiovascular stress dropped significantly in the music group within 10 minutes of tuning in, and remained low, results showed. Only in the music group did cardiovascular measures nearly reach baseline, Allen said.

Music patients also rated the stress of surgery lower and their ability to cope higher than the control group.

Some of the comments of music-listeners: "The music was wonderful...I thought about dancing in the 1930s." "The music made the time fly by." "Waiting really makes me nervous, and the music took my mind off how long I was there."

"This kind of surgery is much more stressful for elderly people than we thought," Allen said. "For them, ambulatory surgery is not a trivial matter. These were relatively well elderly, and they weren't in any danger, but that is not a reason not to alleviate their stress."

Allen said the research shows music could be beneficial for relieving stress surrounding any type of ambulatory surgery.

Other investigators on the study were M.I. Ching, M.D., research fellow at Millard Fillmore; and Alan Forrest, Pharm.D.; Charles Niles, M.D., Philip Niswander, M.D., Jared Barlow, M.D., and Joseph L. Izzo, Jr., M.D., all affiliated with UB.

Music for the study was provided by Digital Music Express.