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Mother's Voice Tops Music
for Soothing Sick Child
 

SAN DIEGO (Reuters Health) - The comforting sound of a mother's voice is sweeter than music to the ears of very sick youngsters, research suggests.

In a study reported here Sunday, hospitalized children requiring mechanical ventilation to breathe were calmer after hearing a recording of their mother's voice combined with soothing music than when they heard either music alone or a blank tape.

``I think it has to do with the connection of the children to their mothers--their primary comfort person,'' study author Beverly Shirk, a pediatric nurse at Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey, Pennsylvania, told Reuters Health. ``Music can have a lot of therapeutic effects on us. But adding the comfort person just seems to really connect with these kids.''

Though not proven, such simple comfort could confer a big medical benefit to these patients, perhaps reducing the need for high levels of sedating medication, which can cause side effects and prolong hospital stays, Shirk said. Sedation is given to keep the children calm and prevent them from pulling out their breathing tubes.

In a paper presented at a meeting of the Society of Critical Care Medicine, Shirk and colleagues studied 29 children between the ages of 3 months and 8 years, mostly toddlers, who had pneumonia or other critical illnesses.

On six separate occasions when the children's medication was wearing off, the researchers played one of three cassette tapes for 20 minutes each. One tape carried soothing music, one contained the music along with the voice of the child's primary caregiver--usually the mother, but sometimes the father--singing or reading a book or poem, and the third tape was blank. Each tape was played twice during the study period.

In the hour after each session, the researchers recorded how often the children showed signs of agitation such as coughing or fidgeting. Though huge differences were not observed, only when the mother's voice was combined with the music did the children's agitation scores stay at or below the baseline measurement. When the other tapes were played, the agitation scores sometimes fluctuated above baseline, as would be expected as the medication wore off.

``The children were most sedate when we used the therapeutic music combined with the mother's voice,'' Shirk said.

And while the combination didn't actually translate into the children needing less medication in this small study, Shirk said she hopes bigger studies with perhaps longer treatment sessions will help determine whether this benefit exists.

In the meantime, it's worth a try for healthcare providers to first ask parents to try to calm these young patients before additional doses of sedation are administered, Shirk said. Doing so could possibly delay the next dose or reduce the amount that must be given, she said.

``All sedatives have side effects and the longer the illness lingers, the longer it may take to forgo the side effects,'' she said. Such side effects include poor digestion, dependence upon the medications and a delayed recovery to normal alertness and functioning, she noted.


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