It's not unusual to see certified music practitioner Helen Wolfson performing for a "patient" audience at Duke University Medical Center.
“In general at Duke, they've been using music therapy and the arts for therapy for over 30 years,” said Dr. Bill Malcolm, a Duke pediatrician and neonatologist.
More recently, the tender tunes are used in the transitional care nursery for preterm infants including Jase Tart, who was born May 22 at just 2 pounds. He's gained four more pounds, and his parents are hopeful they can bring him home soon.
“He was 10 weeks early from pre-eclampsia. He also had hydrocephalas,” his mother, Kim Tart, said.
Wolfson’s music seemed to transform the hospital room full of loud equipment and crying babies.
“It's soothing,” father Chris Tart said. “All these babies are quiet as you'll ever hear them when she's playing.”
Without the music, the loud noises, bright lights and painful procedures can have the opposite effect, especially on preterm babies.
“We know that those can negatively impact neuro-development and long-term outcome,” Malcolm said.
A recent study conducted in 11 hospitals and published in the journal Pediatrics supports the benefits of music as medicine in these settings. The study found that music helped to slow infants' heartbeats, calm their breathing and improve feeding and sleeping.
“He normally sleeps the whole time (Wolfson’s) here,” Kim Tart said of her son. “If he's awake when she comes in, he'll go to sleep.”
And that allows Jase and the other babies to devote more energy to normal development.
Duke's transitional care nursery - and their neonatal intensive care unit - also uses infant massage therapy to help calm babies down.