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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.



Matt Menzenski, a graduate student in Slavic languages & literatures, took this photo during President Obama’s speech at KU Thursday. Menzenski says he was struck by how relaxed the president was in his delivery. He missed a chance to hear former President Bill Clinton speak in his hometown in 2004, but finally got to see a sitting president this week at KU. “The opportunity to hear the president speak is just one of many great opportunities I've had at KU. So many interesting talks and events happen here all the time. I try to attend at least one a week-- it's never hard to find something interesting to go to.” Tags: University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts and Sciences KU School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures KU Dept of Slavic Languages - Friends & Alumni Barack Obama The White House #exploreKU #POTUSatKU

Explore KU: The Bells of Mount Oread KU’s Campanile, a 120-foot-tall timepiece that tolls automatically on the hour and quarter-hour, not only sounded in the 2015 New Year at midnight with 12 mighty gongs, but also regularly rings up memories for many Jayhawks – the 277 faculty and students who gave their lives during World War II, the graduates who walk through its doors at commencement, and aspiring students who have strolled through the Lawrence campus. (See http://bit.ly/1xjjwJj). For nearly 60 years, KU’s 53-bell carillon has been tolling the sounds of peace and serenity across Mount Oread since it was installed in June 1955 inside the landmark World War II Memorial Campanile, which was dedicated in 1951. (See http://bit.ly/1BoL9jv) The carillon is also a four-octave musical instrument, which is played with a giant keyboard and foot pedals. University Carillonneur Elizabeth Egber-Berghout (http://bit.ly/14fiBPl), associate professor of carillon and organ, climbs 77 steps up a spiral staircase in the bell tower to perform recitals several times a month.


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