A project led by a researcher from the
University of Western Sydney has found that music therapy can help
sick babies in intensive care maintain normal behavioral
development, making them less irritable, upset and less likely to
Dr. Stephen Malloch, a Research Fellow at the
University's MARCS Auditory Laboratories at Bankstown Campus, says
one of the aims of this three-year project, which was carried out in
collaboration with the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, was
to see what impact music therapy had on infants in intensive care.
The project studied 40 infants, divided into
three groups: those hospitalized and receiving music therapy; those
hospitalized and not having music therapy; and healthy babies, cared
for at home, without music therapy.
Infant neuropsychologist Dr. Carol Newnham
performed a behavioral development test twice on each infant, about
a month apart.
During that month, the hospitalized infants
who received music therapy had up to 12 sessions of the therapist
gently singing to them and touching them in a way that directly
related to the therapist's perception of the social needs of the
"We found that music therapy supported
the infants' behavior - these infants maintained the same levels of
irritability and crying that they had at admission," says Dr
"Meanwhile, those babies in the Neonatal
Unit who did not have music therapy deteriorated in their
irritability and crying behavior - coping less with their
hospitalization as time went on.
"It's likely the babies who received
music therapy used up less energy when compared with the babies who
did not receive the therapy. If a baby is less irritable and cries
less, this has implications for rate of healing and weight gain, two
significant factors which contribute to the length of a hospital
These research findings were reported at the
World Congress on Music Therapy held in Brisbane last year, and will
be published in an international music therapy journal this year.
An Australian Research Council Linkage grant
of $163,000 funded the study. Other strands of this research close
to being completed include a comparative study of the mental health
of the babies, and a study of their physiological measures as they
interact with the music therapist.
The researchers hope to replicate and expand
this study in the future in order to consolidate their findings.
The researcher who had the task of singing and
interacting with the sick infants was Helen Shoemark, a Senior Music
Therapist at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital and an honorary
Research Fellow at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute.
Ms. Shoemark, who is completing her Ph.D. at
the National Music Therapy Research Institute at the University of
Melbourne, says: "I'm now analyzing the specific
characteristics of the therapy so that it can be applied by other
therapists in this field."
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