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Aims and objectives.  To compare the effects of music intervention with nursing presence and recorded music on blood volume pulse amplitude, the low/high frequency ratio component of heart rate variability, depression, anxiety and sleep quality in cancer patient caregivers; to compare the participants evaluation of these two forms of musical intervention.

Background.  Presence is one of the activities of caring. However, little is known about the effect of music intervention with nursing presence on psycho-physiological indices.

Design.  Randomised crossover controlled trial.

Method.  Thirty-four female participants were randomly assigned to a music intervention with nursing presence/recorded music sequence or recorded music/music intervention with nursing presence sequence. Each intervention lasted 30 minutes and was held at the participant’s home. The music intervention with nursing presence consisted of an erhu and recorder performance. In the recorded music session, participants listened to prerecorded music for 30 minutes. Continuous measurements of blood volume pulse and low/high frequency ratio were taken throughout the procedure. Depression, anxiety and sleep quality were measured before and after each intervention.

Results.  Both music intervention with nursing presence and recorded music interventions had beneficial effects on anxiety, depression and blood volume pulse amplitude. Significant differences between the two interventions were also observed for anxiety. Music intervention with nursing presence was more effective in lessening anxiety and on improving the ease of getting to sleep compared with recorded music (< 0·05). All participants reported that they preferred music intervention with nursing presence to recorded music. Significant differences were found in music evaluation scores between the two interventions in terms of harmony and friendliness (p < 0·05).

Conclusions.  Both music interventions were beneficial, as measured on psycho-physiological indices. The music intervention with nursing presence provided a more friendly music experience to the listeners.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The findings provide evidence for nurses that the therapeutic use of music and nursing presence as a research-based nursing intervention for the welfare of caregivers.