Music can be used to help brain development of very premature children

Premature babies, i.e. those born before the 32nd week of pregnancy, now have a good chance of survival thanks to advances in medicine. However, these children are still characterized by a high risk of developing neuropsychological disorders.

A group of researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG), propose, in a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, what can be considered as an original solution: to use music to ensure that these children, especially their brains, can develop permanently in what is still a stressful environment, that of intensive care.

Since the brains of these little ones are still very immature, we need an incubator to ensure that the brain itself can develop normally. The very immaturity of the brain, in combination with this disturbing environment, such as that of the incubator, explains why the neural networks of very premature children may not develop normally. The first experiments carried out are, according to the same researchers, “surprising”: premature newborns listening to this music show an improvement in sensory and cognitive functions and in general better brain development.

Researchers are making children listen to music specially made by composer Andreas Vollenweider who showed a strong interest in this project. The musician has used punji, a particular Indian flute (the one that in the collective imagination is used by snake charmers) thanks to which children seem to calm down almost instantly because their attention is attracted by the music, as reported by Lara Lordier, neuroscientist at the HUG, one of the authors of the research.

The first children to undergo these experiments are now six years old: this means that it is time to understand if these “therapies” have had positive effects on their possible cognitive problems since this is the age at which they begin to be detectable.