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Christine Metz Howard
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Researcher exploring how to best use music to help premature infants develop

Tue, 04/29/2014

LAWRENCE – Neonatal intensive care units are armed with ventilators and incubators to support a premature baby’s early arrival into the world. But one University of Kansas researcher believes music can serve as another tool to aid in the infant’s still developing neurological system.

Deanna Hanson-Abromeit, an assistant professor of music therapy and music education, is working to provide more theory-based research on how music can help premature babies manage external stimuli, such as noise and human interactions.

Since the 1970s, nurses have used music in neonatal intensive care units to help premature babies continue to develop. But over the past 40 years, research on the effectiveness of music therapy and premature infants has been mixed.

That’s largely because the previous studies have had too many variables in the population sample, the methods of intervention and the measure of effectiveness, Hanson-Abromeit said.

“While studies have shown benefits, they have been limited in size, and we have been limited by access to funding,” she said.

Music isn’t being used for enrichment but to create a multisensory tool that triggers the senses of hearing, feeling, balance and movement. Premature infants haven’t been exposed to all the sensory stimuli that full-term babies experience during the final months of the fetal development process.

As a result, premature infants have trouble interacting with outside stimuli, such as turning toward a person who is speaking and expressing emotion. Music can support development outcomes such as self-regulation, feeding and transitions from the sleep to wake cycle.

Research is still needed on how the complexity of music affects the infant, Hanson-Abromeit said. While studies have looked at the effectiveness of music therapy, few have compared the kind of music being used. For example, how do premature babies react to recorded music versus a person humming?

“We have to be very careful about the complexity of the music and introduce characteristics of the music, such as timbre, contour and even tempo, in a way for them to process,” Hanson-Abromeit said.

Anecdotally, as a therapist, she has seen success with music therapy.

“I have respiratory therapists ask if they can chain me to the bedside, because when I’m there humming and singing, the baby doesn’t need as much oxygen,” she said.

But those kind of improvements don’t last long after the music stops. And, Hanson-Abromeit wants to know why.

This summer, Hanson-Abromeit is part of a team organizing what is believed to be the first transdisciplinary meeting for integrating music therapy into premature infant care.

Known as the Music and Neuro-Developmentally At-Risk Infant (MANDARI) Project, the conference will bring together those in psychology, medicine, public health and music with the long-term goal of creating sustainable research for music therapy geared toward neurodevelopment of at-risk newborns.

The hope is for those from different disciplines to form groups and embark on new research together. The conference will use an arts-based approach to the collaboration process.



With graduation just a few months away, James Robert Wilson, senior in sport management, took this photo of the Memorial Campanile while looking forward to KU commencement traditions. After walking through the campanile and down the Hill in May, Wilson plans to take a summer road trip, then pursue a master’s degree and help coach track and field. Wilson, who is from Abilene, Kansas, says, "Coming to KU has put me in contact with people from all over the world and opened my eyes to many new cultures.” His advice to all Jayhawks: "Make the most of your time here by trying new things.” Our advice to graduating Jayhawks: Enjoy your last semester. Where will your time at KU take you? Tags: #exploreKU #Graduation University of Kansas School of Education

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KU welcomes President Obama Jan. 22, 2015, was a historic day on the Hill: President Barack Obama visited the University of Kansas campus (http://bit.ly/POTUSatKU), the first sitting president to do so in a century. More than 7,000 people — including many students and faculty who had spent hours in line to get tickets for the event — packed inside KU’s Anschutz Sports Pavilion to hear the president speak. Welcomed by Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little with “Barack Chalk, Jayhawk!” Obama told the gathering “I’m a Kansas guy,” because his mother was from Wichita and grandparents were from Augusta and El Dorado. In his 35-minute talk, the president discussed themes (see official White House transcript http://1.usa.gov/1yMWJqy) from his 2015 State of the Union address, including his goal to lower the cost of attending college.


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