Clinical Trials

Premature infants often need around-the-clock ICU care involving multiple diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that cause recurrent pain and stress throughout the first weeks to months of life. The present study tested the hypotheses that auditory stimulation with vocal music decreases procedure- induced pain and stress, and that these benefits can be assayed via autonomic and motor responses to the pain stimulus. Using a case-control clinical trial design, we measured the effect of skin punctures (for blood tests) on heart rate and respiratory rate in 13 premature infants (gestational age = 32.9±1.4 wks) admitted to the Massachusetts General Hospital Neonatal Special Care Unit. Seven neonates received auditory stimulation within 115 seconds after pain onset (latency = 69±32 s; duration = 10 mins); six neonates were not stimulated. Skin puncture precipitated protracted increases in both heart rate and respiratory rate in all babies. On average, premature infants stimulated with vocal music after pain onset showed a greater decrease in heart rate over time than unstimulated infants (p=0.011). Auditory stimulation had no significant effect on respiratory rate. These results suggest that auditory stimulation ameliorates acute pain and stress in premature infants via connections between the central auditory system and brainstem systems modulating autonomic outflow to the heart (LeDoux 1996). Whether the type of auditory stimulation influences the presence and magnitude of the observed effect at this very early stage of brain development and cultural experience requires further investigation in much larger populations.

Anecdotes about the salutary effects of music on movement in PD abound. Although recent studies of supervised entrainment, which explicitly synchronizes movements to beats embedded in music, demonstrate positive effects on gait, few systematic analyses of ambient music’s spontaneous effects on movement are available. This pilot study served to investigate ambient music’s effect on visuomotor integration, gait, and rapid alternating movements (RAMs) in Parkinson’s Disease (PD) using controlled, quantifiable methods. The results support that ambient music may potentially benefit people with PD with respect to visuomotor integration, walking, and RAMs, three types of movements classically affected by PD. More research needs to be conducted to better support these claims and elucidate the degree and reliability of benefit ambient music may provide people with PD.

The Institute investigates music's therapeutic effects in controlled studies at Massachusetts General Hospital. Please click on the links to the left for summaries of recent pilot studies.