For the thousands of children who end up in hospitals each year due to illness and injury, hospitals can be intimidating places. Finding themselves in an unfamiliar environment, removed from home, school and friends, these children are at risk of feeling anxious and alone. Can the incorporation of music and performance positively shape their experiences?
A national survey conducted by the Care Quality Commission in 2014 reported that out of 19,000 children, 40% complained about the lack of opportunities to play in hospital. At the charity I co-founded, Create, the young patients we work with talk about what they find difficult about hospital visits, with one parent summing it up to me:
'One of the things my daughter has found the hardest is boredom. The children spend a lot of their time being quiet due to consideration for others on the ward.'
Hospitals are there to make us better when we're unwell and, as is becoming more widely acknowledged, music can play an important role in speeding up this recovery and making our time in hospital more effective.
We've just launched a new series of music and storytelling workshops with our professional musician Graham Rix and playwright/actor James Baldwin in children's wards in Reading, Basingstoke, Oxford and London. These are some of the reasons why we think all hospitals and hospices should embrace music and enjoy the health benefits it can bring.
1. Listening to relaxing music is more effective in decreasing pre-operative anxiety than orally administered sedatives - Patients who listen to music feel less distressed, require less sedative medication, and report better satisfaction with their medical experience.
2. Music can help prevent nausea and sickness - Listening to music has been found to be an effective adjunct to antiemetic treatment and can significantly reduce nausea and vomiting in patients who are receiving high-dose chemotherapy.
3. Young patients feel less pain when listening to music - Studies have shown that young patients experiencing neuropathic pain feel a reduction in the intensity of pain when listening to music.
4. Playing and composing music provides an outlet for regaining control of a young patient's own life - Young patients can sometimes feel a sense of powerlessness and a lack of freedom while undergoing treatment. Taking part in music workshops and writing original compositions can reintroduce feelings of individuality and independence, as well as self-confidence in one's own artistic abilities.
5. Music means dancing, and dancing keeps inpatients active - Even when confined to a bed, movement and dancing during music workshops can prevent muscle atrophy associated with prolonged hospitalisation and improve motor skill development.
6. Singing and playing music improves emotional wellbeing - Research has found that music can trigger biochemical stress reducers and produces endorphins in the body, which can significantly improve our sense of emotional wellbeing.
7. Singing can help patients with asthma to breathe - Young patients with conditions such as asthma and emphysema can learn how to control their breathing and train themselves to breathe at a pace that suits them. Singing is a fun and communal form of physiotherapy!
8. Writing music improves a young patient's relationships with family members, caregivers and medical staff - Music sessions provide a medium for positive communication between young patients and the adults in their lives. As well as stimulating verbalisations regarding hospital experiences, playing music is also a powerful and effective way of communicating with children who are unable to express how they feel verbally.
9. Interactive music sessions and song-writing can reduce anxiety in young patients and their parents - Seeing a hospitalised child get creative and express their individuality allows parents to see their child in a new light as their strengths are manifested in a refreshingly relaxed and carefree situation. This experience can help to relieve a parent's feelings of anxiety.
10. Playing music is fun! - When a young patient is too unwell to leave hospital, music sessions offer a much-needed hour of carefree joy and laughter.
Last year, Create reached 666 young patients across London and the South but needs your help to bring smiles to the faces of young patients during 2016. Please support this project by visiting createarts.org.uk or text CREA28 £amount to 70070.
Follow Create on Twitter: @createcharity