Visitors, students and hospital staff can play music on a white grand piano in the covered avenue just outside Erasmus MC. After all, says Aniek de Rooij, a researcher at Erasmus MC: “Music should have its place in a hospital, every bit as much as pills.”
The initiative does not mean that Erasmus MC is blindly following the current trend to install pianos at stations and in hospitals. The hospital is actually studying the impact music has on people’s health.
Aniek de Rooij, who attended a conservatory while getting her medical degree, is one of the researchers carrying out the study. She told us a bit more about the ideas behind the experiment.
Delft railway station
It all started with the Music as Medicine study group, established by Prof. Hans Jeekel, whose objective was to determine how music can be applied to the field of medicine. By now a larger group of scientists is looking into the effects of music on health, disease and recovery.
The idea of installing a piano was proposed by Prof. Myriam Hunink of the Clinical Epidemiology and Radiology department, who shares De Rooij’s passion for music and research. “She’d even exit the train at Delft in order to play the piano at the station before continuing her journey,” De Rooij told EM.
Reduced pain and fear
That music affects the human body has been demonstrated by several studies. For instance, the Music as Medicine study group is investigating how music affects burn victims’ pain while their wound dressings are being changed at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in South Africa. Burn wound dressing changes are known to be extremely painful.
In addition, Sophia Children’s Hospital is currently examining the impact music has on children before and after their operations. “Several studies have shown that music has a positive effect on patients just before and just after surgery. Music reduces pain and fear,” said De Rooij. Two reviews, published in The Lancet and Annals of Surgery, showed that music clearly had a positive effect on patients during the operation period.
A quicker post-operative recovery
Even so, much remains unclear about the effects of music. “It reduces pain and fear, but it is unknown at present whether it affects the way in which patients recover from surgery,” added De Rooij. Biologically, it may have that effect, as music has a stress-reducing effect.
“Among other things, stress affects the functioning of our immune system, the release of dopamine in our brain, and our pulse and blood pressure,” De Rooij explained. “In other words, a reduction of stress levels by means of music may result in improved immunity, lower blood pressure, lower heart rate and fewer stress hormones, which may contribute to improved recovery.”
Toine van den Enden is a third-year medical student who regularly plays the piano. “Playing music is what I love to do best when I’m not engaging in medicine. It helps me relax and provides me with an excellent way to let off some steam. I just love being able to play a grand piano so close to my work, in between my duties. And isn’t it great that I get to contribute to making a visit to a hospital a slightly less unpleasant experience for patients and their loved ones? It gives me a good feeling about what I’m doing!”
However, research into the subject is not that easy. Certain types of music will calm some patients while annoying others; after all, there is no accounting for taste. Researchers are also still investigating what influence tempo, rhythm and harmony have on the efficacy of music. Classical music whose tempo is similar to the human heart rate – e.g. Mozart’s KV 448 (Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major) – is often used in research and appears to have a positive effect.
Less bare and chilly
For now, the grand piano will stay in Erasmus MC’s covered avenue. “It’s important that people feel good in their environment, even in a hospital,” stated De Rooij. So she is now studying the effects the grand piano has on Erasmus MC visitors and patients. She hopes that it will help visitors feel welcome and promote interaction. At the very least, the piano will make the covered avenue considerably less bare and chilly.