From nursery rhymes to AC/DC: Lady Cilento emergency ward uses power of music


The healing power of music is being harnessed in emergency rooms at Brisbane’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital to ensure young patients remain settled during procedures.

The hospital is the first in Australia to have a dedicated paediatric music therapy service team inside a paediatric emergency unit.

Maggie Leung, clinical leader of the music therapy department, said the seven-member team helped children at crucial moments in theatre.

“When we know a child is in distress due to being scared, in pain or if a procedure needs to be done, our doctors call us in to help,” she said.

“We bring our guitar in and start singing to calm everyone down and it distracts the child so the doctor can start the procedure quickly.

“That allows the treatment to start and it improves efficiency and improves processing time to get the medicine into the child quicker.”

YOUTUBE: See how music therapy helps children

Ms Leung said the program followed on from the paediatric music therapy service established at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne more than two decades ago.

A general music therapy program has also been up and running in Brisbane for 21 years.

“Music therapy uses music as a powerful tool to engage different areas of our brain to drive outcomes,” Ms Leung told 612 ABC Brisbane’s Emma Griffiths.

“The outcomes include emotional benefits, physical benefits and social wellbeing.

“It makes people feel better — not just physically, but emotionally and socially as they feel connected.”

How does it work?

The children are visited by the music therapists at their bedside, often with a guitar or another instrument in hand.

“If children are in an intensive care unit they might respond to the music by looking, stopping crying, settling or want more cuddles with mum and dad,” Ms Leung said.

“The children respond differently in different circumstances.

“We often ask the child what they listen to at home and it ranges from nursery rhymes to AC/DC … which can be tricky.”

Ms Leung is one of Australia’s only paediatric neurologic music therapists.

“I believe there’s more to music, and when I hear music I notice my heart rate decreases,” she said.

“From research and neuroscience, we know that music is one of the most powerful yet safe stimulation of all areas of our brain.

“For our kids here, it helps motivate them to get better.”

Not just for children

Ms Leung’s department and the music they create often help adults too.

“Sometimes parents or grandparents join in, and siblings as well,” she said.

“When the doctors or nurses walk past they might also join in.”

She said feedback from medical staff had been overwhelming.

“They tell us that they don’t need to give as much pain medication as they know the music settles them down,” Ms Leung said.

“It helps to calm the family down as well — a little dose of music makes everyone feel better.”


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