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How a Metronome Could Save a Life

An simple device could help save lives by keeping CPR on the beat

(Amelie-Benoist /BSIP/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

CPR has been around since the 1740s, but it’s still a staple for first aid—effective CPR can double or even triple the chances of survival for someone under cardiac arrest. Even though the practice is centuries old, it still has room for improvement. NPR’s Patti Neighmond reports on new research that indicates the steady ticking of the metronome could make CPR even more effective.

In the new study, over 150 medical professionals performed chest compressions on a dummy. Around half had the guiding metronome beat and the other half went without. With the beat of a metronome, CPR was up to 22 percent more effective, Neighmond reports.

The idea isn’t new. One of the biggest problems with CPR is that people perform the chest pumps too slowly, writes Neighmond. Cues that help keep first responders on beat—100 to 120 times per minute—could help improve CPR’s effectiveness.

Would-be life savers are currently encouraged by organizations like the American Heart Association to pump to the beat of songs like “Stayin’ Alive,” which has a tempo of 103 beats per minute. 

But using songs for CPR is controversial—in 2011, a study showed that pumping to a high-tempo song isn’t enough to ensure proper CPR, while a 2014 study showed that nurses who performed CPR to any song did a better job than those who didn’t have a song to pump to. 

Though it isn’t a standard yet, perhaps it’s better to keep a metronome on hand—it may just help save a life.

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