January 22, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 81—Health, and delirium

Indiana has long ranked poorly when it comes to residents’ overall health. In fact, the state currently ranks 41st in terms of overall health, which public health experts say is the result of a chronically underfunded and undervalued public health system. IUPUI professor Paul Halverson says the onslaught of COVID-19 sounded the alarm for the shortcomings of Indiana’s public health system, resulting in the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI detailing actions in a report on improving public health in Indiana. The report reviews Indiana’s current public health system, provides a review of best practices for state and local health departments and makes recommendations that would fit in state and local settings. Part of the problem, according to researchers, is a lack of funding. Indiana ranks 48th on public health funding, which contributes to higher levels of preventable disease and injury burden -- along with higher medical costs -- when compared to other states. IUPUI Professor Valerie Yeager says it costs a lot less to keep people healthy than it does to make them well again, but we historically do not focus on prevention, a narrative we need to change. To turn the state’s health around, researchers recommend creating a uniform approach to deliver foundational public health services across the state; creating a district-level mechanism to enable resource sharing among local health departments; strengthening the state health department's oversight of local health departments, and creating a multidisciplinary statewide implementation committee tasked with executing the recommended steps. According to the report, the proposed investments will also boost economic development and growth across the state, as children will have fewer health-related interruptions in their education and workers will face fewer interruptions in productivity, earnings, and career advancement.

In other news, it has been seven years since IU physician Babar Khan began studying delirium, in particular searching for a drug that could sooth the agitation, inattention, and hallucinations that characterize the disorder. Delirium is common in the intensive care units where Khan works; some 70 to 80% of ventilated patients in the ICU experience episodes of delirium that not only prolong their stay in hospital but can also lead to long-term cognitive decline. After two antipsychotic drug trials failed, Khan began looking into more holistic interventions -- in particular, music. He recently co-led a 2020 pilot study using music to alleviate delirium in mechanically ventilated ICU patients. Encouragingly, he found that relaxing, slow-tempo classical music reduced patients’ number of delirium days. After assigning music to patients undergoing mechanical ventilation in the ICU, the researchers assessed patients daily to evaluate delirium, anxiety, and pain, for up to seven days. Eighty percent of the patients said that they enjoyed listening to the music. And among the treatment groups, general relaxing music resulted in the most delirium-free days (three, on average) and lowest delirium severity on a standardized seven-item scale. Khan says it is exciting to see larger studies being funded and neuroscientists and fundamental researchers coming together with musicians and music therapists. In the last 15 years, as labs worldwide have studied how the brain processes music, neurologists and cognitive neuroscientists have started to focus on the potential of music to treat neurological disorders.