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New research highlights benefits of music therapy

Music therapist Angela Delaney measured changes in pain in a paediatric palliative care setting.

Recent Queensland research has provided new evidence that music therapy can significantly reduce perceptions of pain in children with life-limiting conditions.

The 12-month pilot study, conducted by senior music therapist with Queensland Paediatric Palliative Care Service, Angela Delaney, represents one of the first attempts to measure changes in pain in a paediatric palliative care setting.

“In the past, research has relied on anecdotal reports of reduced pain, which isn’t particularly rigorous,” said Ms Delaney.

“We know music therapy makes a difference – you can see children’s pain dissipating during therapy. Their fingers might be clenched and they’ll relax them, or they might be rigid and their body will relax into the bed. But the challenge is actually measuring the physiological effects of music therapy.”

Ms Delaney’s study used three pain measures; two pain rating scales, heart rate and semi-structured interviews with parents. Reductions in pain measures and heart rate provided measurable evidence of pain reducing.

The study of 10 families, which captured results from 39 music therapy sessions, found that all children experienced a statistically significant reduction in pain during music therapy. Results were strongest in the 60% of children who had moderate pain.

“Children with moderate levels of pain experienced at least a two-point decrease on a 10-point pain score,” said Ms Delaney.

“That decrease is significant, because it might bring a child with moderate pain to mild pain, or no pain in some instances.”

The two-point decrease was consistent with results from a Canadian trial conducted with children in an emergency setting.

“The difference is that palliative kids have general pain affecting their quality of life, rather than procedural pain caused by something like having an IV line put in,” said Ms Delaney.

She said parents interviewed for the Queensland study reported seeing their children’s pulse rate settle, their breathing rates improve, and spasms caused by pain stopping.

“They also reported that even in times when they couldn’t get their child to smile or laugh anymore, music was always brought joy.”

Ms Delaney said music therapy inhibits the perception of pain because it optimises neural pathways and stimulates the brainstem.

“Music is the only sensory experience that can activate all areas of the brain simultaneously.

“It influences human behaviour by affecting the brain and subsequently other bodily structures in ways that are observable, identifiable, measurable, and predictable, providing the necessary foundation for therapeutic applications.”

Ms Delaney said she enjoyed a description of music’s benefits written by neurologist and author Oliver Sacks:  “Music can lift us, or move us to tears. It is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear.”

“But for many of my patients, music is even more,” she said.

“It can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”

The Music Therapy and Paediatric Palliative Care study was funded by the Allied Health Professionals of Queensland research grant scheme.


Comments

  • Loved the article. Can I add that I have witnessed positive effects with aged residents suffering from dementia. When agitated, restless and often aggressive I have witnessed the person settling when head phones with their favourite music installed have been placed is situ....

    - sue mcdonald

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