Medical Moment: The healing power of music

Published: May. 25, 2023 at 5:42 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - Being hospitalized is a difficult and often traumatic experience for anyone, but for children, it can be especially challenging.

They are forced to endure painful medical treatments, unfamiliar people, and separation from their families. Many children experience anxiety, depression, and other emotional challenges while in the hospital.

But now, therapies that don’t involve any medications, needle pricks, or painful surgeries are helping kids heal.

This is more than just playtime for little five-year-old Emmett Bleyle. Each song is helping him heal.

“Emmet’s official diagnosis is PMM2 congenital disorder of glycosylation,” explained Rylie Bleyle, Emmett’s mom.

Emmett’s mom Rylie was told her baby boy would not live until his first birthday.

“They didn’t think he had another six months in him. And here we are,” Rylie said.

Emmett averages two to three hospital stays a month with a care team of more than 18 specialists. His mother believes a key to his survival is music!

“I started seeing Emmett when he was like 18 months old,” said Sara Schmidt, a dance and movement therapist at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. “He was so small and he couldn’t sit up.”

Expressive therapists at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital believe music, dance, art, and play helps hospitalized kids through the physical, emotional, and psychological issues that come with illnesses and long hospital stays.

“Music access is a different part of your brain than other modalities do,” said Katie Lahue, an expressive therapies manager at Intermountain Primary. “And so through music and the arts, we’re able to accomplish different goals.”

Using music to motivate kids like Emmett to work on different developmental goals.

“And also, it’s away for him to express, kind of, his process being here and a way for him to express how he’s feeling, what he’s going through,” said Eliana Rivera, and music therapist at Intermountain Primary.

“Sometimes we can reach these kiddos better than other providers here in the hospital can,” Lahue said.

Studies show expressive therapies help children manage their pain and anxiety, boost immunity, and contribute to faster physical healing.

“Letting Emmett emotionally reset that way through dancing and through singing and through playing with instruments and things like that, I think that’s kind of reset his body to the point where we’ve walked away for some instances that we shouldn’t have,” Rylie said.

The magic of music. A powerful tool in helping kids like Emmett heal.

The music therapists at Intermountain also do something called legacy work. They talk to the parents and work with them to create a song when their child is nearing the end of life. They play the song for the child, and record it, creating a special memory for the parents.