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Attention Mothers, music is good for premature, sad and even stressed kids

A new study conducted in Switzerland confirms that music can do much more than make us dream and calm our senses: the right songs can help to enhance the neurological development of premature babies . We are talking about children born before the 32nd week of pregnancy who, thanks to medical advances, today have a good chance of survival, but who find themselves fighting with the risk of developing neuropsychological (even serious) disorders.

To help the brains of these fragile newborns develop as well as possible - despite the stressful environment of intensive care - researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) have proposed an original solution: music written specifically for them . The first results of this sweet therapy have been published in the Acts of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in the United States and are surprising: medical imaging reveals that neural networks - in particular a network involved in many sensory and cognitive functions - of premature babies who listened to that precise melody developed much better .

Every year, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the HUG accommodates 80 children born too early - between 24 and 32 weeks of pregnancy, which is almost four months ahead of schedule in some cases. The vast majority survive, but half of them later develop neuro-evolutionary disorders - aliases: learning difficulties, attention or emotional disorders. As Petra Hüppi, professor at the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and Head of the Development and Growth Division of HUG, explains: "At birth, the brains of these children are still immature. Brain developmenthe must therefore continue in the intensive care unit, in an incubator, in very different conditions than when they were still in the womb. The immaturity of the brain, combined with a disturbing sensory environment, explains why neural networks do not develop normally ”.

The Geneva researchers have decided to rely on music starting from a practical idea: as the neural deficits of premature babies are due - at least in part - to unexpected and stressful stimuli (such as the birth before time), but also to the lack of stimuli adapted to their conditions, their environment should be enriched by introducing pleasant elements and well-studied stimuli. Since hearing - generally - works from the beginning, music seems to be the perfect ally to deal with the problem. Which music are we talking about, exactly? "Fortunately, we met the composer Andreas Vollenweider who had already directed musical projects for special situations and showed great interest in creating music suitable for premature babies," explained Hüppi.

Lara Lordier, a doctor in neuroscience and researcher at the HUG and UNIGE, described the process of musical creation as follows: "It was important that these musical stimuli were related to the child's condition. We wanted to structure the day with pleasant stimuli in the appropriate moments: a music to accompany their awakening, a music to accompany their falling asleep and a music to interact during the phases of awakening ". The right tool is everything: Vollenweider has played several in the presence of a nurse specializing in development support to understand which were the most appreciated by young patients, and “The instrument that generated most of the reactions was the flute of Indian snake charmers (punji). The very agitated children calmed down almost instantly - their attention was drawn to the music! ", Lordier told Good News. The musician then composed three sound tracks about eight minutes long each playing punji, the harp and some bells.

The study was conducted with a group of premature babies who listened to music, a control group of premature babies and a full-term control group of newborns to assess whether the brain development of the premature babies who had listened to the music would have been more similar to that of term children. Scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging at rest on all three groups of children. Long story short, premature babies without music generally had poorer functional connectivity between brain areas than full-term children, confirming the negative effect of prematurity: "The network most affected is the salience networkthat detects the information and assesses its relevance at a specific time, then creates the connection with the other brain networks that must act. This network is essential, both for learning and performing cognitive tasks, as well as in social relationships or emotional management, "confirmed Lara Lordier.

"In intensive care, children are overwhelmed by stimuli unrelated to their condition: open and closed doors, alarms activated and so on. Unlike a child born in time who, in utero, regulates his rhythm to that of his mother , the premature child in intensive care can hardly develop the link between the meaning of a stimulus in a specific context ". However, the neural networks of the children who listened to the music of Andreas Vollenweider improved significantly: the functional connectivity between the salience network and the auditory, sensorimotor, frontal, thalamic and precuneus networks is actually increased - obtaining a network organization more similar to full-term babies.

In short, music is (really) much more than a background for our days, cheers!

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A new study conducted in Switzerland confirms that music can do much more than make us dream and calm our senses: the right songs can help to enhance the neurological development of premature babies . We are talking about children born before the 32nd week of pregnancy who, thanks to medical advances, today have a good chance of survival, but who find themselves fighting with the risk of developing neuropsychological (even serious) disorders.

To help the brains of these fragile newborns develop as well as possible - despite the stressful environment of intensive care - researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) have proposed an original solution: music written specifically for them . The first results of this sweet therapy have been published in the Acts of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in the United States and are surprising: medical imaging reveals that neural networks - in particular a network involved in many sensory and cognitive functions - of premature babies who listened to that precise melody developed much better .

Every year, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the HUG accommodates 80 children born too early - between 24 and 32 weeks of pregnancy, which is almost four months ahead of schedule in some cases. The vast majority survive, but half of them later develop neuro-evolutionary disorders - aliases: learning difficulties, attention or emotional disorders. As Petra Hüppi, professor at the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and Head of the Development and Growth Division of HUG, explains: "At birth, the brains of these children are still immature. Brain developmenthe must therefore continue in the intensive care unit, in an incubator, in very different conditions than when they were still in the womb. The immaturity of the brain, combined with a disturbing sensory environment, explains why neural networks do not develop normally ”.

The Geneva researchers have decided to rely on music starting from a practical idea: as the neural deficits of premature babies are due - at least in part - to unexpected and stressful stimuli (such as the birth before time), but also to the lack of stimuli adapted to their conditions, their environment should be enriched by introducing pleasant elements and well-studied stimuli. Since hearing - generally - works from the beginning, music seems to be the perfect ally to deal with the problem. Which music are we talking about, exactly? "Fortunately, we met the composer Andreas Vollenweider who had already directed musical projects for special situations and showed great interest in creating music suitable for premature babies," explained Hüppi.

Lara Lordier, a doctor in neuroscience and researcher at the HUG and UNIGE, described the process of musical creation as follows: "It was important that these musical stimuli were related to the child's condition. We wanted to structure the day with pleasant stimuli in the appropriate moments: a music to accompany their awakening, a music to accompany their falling asleep and a music to interact during the phases of awakening ". The right tool is everything: Vollenweider has played several in the presence of a nurse specializing in development support to understand which were the most appreciated by young patients, and “The instrument that generated most of the reactions was the flute of Indian snake charmers (punji). The very agitated children calmed down almost instantly - their attention was drawn to the music! ", Lordier told Good News. The musician then composed three sound tracks about eight minutes long each playing punji, the harp and some bells.

The study was conducted with a group of premature babies who listened to music, a control group of premature babies and a full-term control group of newborns to assess whether the brain development of the premature babies who had listened to the music would have been more similar to that of term children. Scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging at rest on all three groups of children. Long story short, premature babies without music generally had poorer functional connectivity between brain areas than full-term children, confirming the negative effect of prematurity: "The network most affected is the salience networkthat detects the information and assesses its relevance at a specific time, then creates the connection with the other brain networks that must act. This network is essential, both for learning and performing cognitive tasks, as well as in social relationships or emotional management, "confirmed Lara Lordier.

"In intensive care, children are overwhelmed by stimuli unrelated to their condition: open and closed doors, alarms activated and so on. Unlike a child born in time who, in utero, regulates his rhythm to that of his mother , the premature child in intensive care can hardly develop the link between the meaning of a stimulus in a specific context ". However, the neural networks of the children who listened to the music of Andreas Vollenweider improved significantly: the functional connectivity between the salience network and the auditory, sensorimotor, frontal, thalamic and precuneus networks is actually increased - obtaining a network organization more similar to full-term babies.

In short, music is (really) much more than a background for our days, cheers!

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