When there is a lot of machine noise in the neonatal hospital environment, babies will learn those sounds, possibly at the expense of speech sounds. “This may contribute to later language learning problems,” says Huotilainen.
Huotilainen is currently studying prematurely born babies receiving “kangaroo care” (worn by mothers in pouches) in groups that hear silence, speech, or soft lullabies, to see if certain environments might help them to develop their language faster.
Huotilainen’s former graduate student Eino Partanen, collaborator on the prenatally-learned music study, is also hoping to find out how, what and when we learn sounds, “and what kinds of developmental deficits we can start to ameliorate in early infancy,” he says.
But purposely modifying the sounds a developing foetus hears is something Huotilainen is cautious about. She is sceptical of the value of “foetal stimulators”: devices marketed to mothers that play music directly to their unborn babies, some attached on the belly, others through vaginal loudspeakers. “I’m not at all sure if it’s a good idea to use those,” she says.
“If they use sound frequencies in casinos to make people gamble more, then surely we can use that technique in a good way to make a better environment in hospitals.” Consumer (Western Australia Report http://www.cacwa.org.au/documents/item/504)
Leading on from this I found a video about the HUSH project in Melbourne where music is being composed for specific oncology procedures. It’s a very interesting project. I’m not sure how child centred the selection of music is or whether everyone would find the jazz idiom of music featured relaxing. You can find videos on the work here http://www.hush.org.au/about
A randomised controlled trial in a PED in Canada conducted by Hartling et al. showed that music “may have a positive impact on pain and distress in children undergoing IV placement. Benefits observed for the parents and health care providers have important clinical implications.” However, it concluded that “many of the intricacies surrounding the most effective approach to a musical intervention remain unanswered” (Hartling et al. 2013).
What is the difference between sound and noise? Why are some sounds considered to be more beneficial in the healthcare setting than others? Soundspaces will be exploring noise pollution in the hospital environment and ways of introducing more beneficial sounds either through live, performative or recorded music.
Watch this soundspace to follow the project as it unfolds….