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Music to the Ears: New Therapy Helping Littlest Patients

People begin to love music at a young age — a very young age. So while listening to music has many benefits in adults — reduces stress, improves sleep quality and enhances mood, among others — research shows that music can have amazing health benefits in babies and children.

Research with music therapy in newborn intensive care units began almost 20 years ago and has produced consistent results. Infants in the NICU who receive music therapy have been found to:

  • Gain more weight
  • Show better vital signs (i.e., heart rate, breathing)
  • Experience shorter lengths of stay than those who do not receive music therapy

This is why Beacon Children’s Hospital introduced music therapy this year in its NICU, Pediatric Unit, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic.

Led by the friendly, board-certified music therapist Cambrae Reedstrom, the program has been enthusiastically received by parents and clinicians. An accomplished musician, Cambrae sings and plays the acoustic guitar for her youngest patients, in addition to playing recorded music.

Because music therapy is especially helpful and comforting when parents are away, Cambrae makes CD recordings of parents singing lullabies and reciting poems and prayers that can then be played to their children in the hospital. “Even if the parents cannot be next to their child in the hospital, this can help calm and relax the child,” says Cambrae.

For young children, she lets them pick from a variety of instruments to play: drums, shakers, bells, rainsticks, xylophone and ukulele. This allows kids to express themselves, reduces anxiety, establishes a sense of normalcy and empowers them in an environment in which they sometimes feel they have no control.

A child being treated for asthma, for example, can play the harmonica — which is fun for them and helps them work on breathing at the same time.

This all adds up to a wonderfully satisfying work experience for Cambrae.

“I love what I do. I get to play music that helps our patients feel better and do better. And the research shows that it not only helps them emotionally, it really makes a difference in their healing and recovery.”

Though not currently in place, Memorial Children’s Hospital may expand music therapy on an outpatient basis. Music therapy is yet another specialized service offered at Memorial to help children.

“We are always looking for innovative ways to enhance the patient-care experience,” says Jen Tonkovich, RN, BSN, CPN, Director of Pediatric Services at Memorial Children’s Hospital. “Parents want us to do everything we can to help their child, so we are grateful we can offer music therapy.”