Study: Special Form of Therapy Proven to Help Premature Babies’ Brains Develop

Music to their ears.
Save article
ByStephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
May 2019
preemie baby in the hospital being cared for by doctor
Photo: Getty Images

New medical imaging reveals the neural networks of premature infants develop much better when the babies listen to music designed specifically for them.

Thanks to amazing medical advances, premature babies have a much better chance of survival. But even with this advanced technology, preemies are still at risk of developing neuropsychological disorders. Researchers at the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG) in Switzerland found preemies’ neural networks, which are involved in many sensory and cognitive functions, develop much better when the babies listen to music written especially for them. Since the neural deficits of premature babies are due largely to unexpected and stressful stimuli and a lack of stimuli adapted to their condition, the Geneva researchers wanted to add pleasant and structuring stimuli to their environments.

"We wanted to structure the day with pleasant stimuli at appropriate times: a music to accompany their awakening, a music to accompany their falling asleep, and a music to interact during the awakening phases,” explains Lara Lordier, PhD in neurosciences and researcher at the HUG. “The instrument that generated the most reactions was the Indian snake charmers’ flute (the punji). Very agitated children calmed down almost instantly, their attention was drawn to the music!”

Composer Andreas Vollenweider wrote three sound environments of eight minutes each, featuring punji, harp and bells pieces. The study was then conducted using a group of premature infants who listened to the music, a control group of premature infants and a control group of full-term newborns to assess whether the brain development of premature infants who had listened to the music would be more similar to that of full-term babies.

Without music, premature babies generally had poorer functional connectivity between brain areas than full-term babies, which confirmed the negative effect of prematurity. When babies are in the NICU, they are overwhelmed by stimuli, such as doors opening and closing and alarms going off. Full-term babies have more time to adjust to the rhythm and sounds around them, which is why premature infants aren’t able to develop the link between different sounds as easily. But the neural networks of children who heard Vollenweider’s music were significantly improved, and resulted in brain network organizations more similar to that of full-term infants.

The first children enrolled in the project are now 6 years old—the age cognitive problems begin to be detectable. Scientists will meet with them again to conduct a full cognitive and socio-emotional assessment, and observe whether the positive outcomes originally measured in their first weeks of life made a larger impact down the line.

Save article

Danielle Fishel Opens Up About Bond She Has With Other NICU Parents

Nehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
03/04/2020

NICU Nurse Treats Son of a Patient From 30 Years Ago in Sweet Surprise

Nehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
02/19/2020

Boy Meets World Star Danielle Fishel Gets Real About Her Mom-Guilt

Nehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
10/15/2019

Bride Walks Down the Aisle Holding Preemie Baby at Hospital Wedding Ceremony

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
08/08/2019

Danielle Fishel Sums Up the Roller Coaster of Emotions When You Have a NICU Baby

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
07/02/2019

World’s Smallest Surviving Baby Finally Goes Home

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
05/31/2019

Revolutionary Wireless Sensors Could Allow Skin-to-Skin Contact With NICU Babies

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
03/01/2019

World's Smallest Surviving Baby Boy Is Sent Home After Months in the Hospital

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
02/28/2019

Dad's Adorable Photos Capture His Preemie Son Doing 'Manly' Things

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
02/06/2019

Premature Babies’ Brains Benefit From Caffeine in First Few Days of Life

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
12/13/2018
Article removed.