There was an excellent symposium on the role of sound and “music intervention” in healthcare, Care for Sound, held at Lund University in Sweden on October 17, 2013. A number of distinguished speakers, all of them either clinicians or academics (or both), delivered talks on the largely under-appreciated value of both conscientious noise management and “designed-sound environments” in healthcare settings.

Per Thorgaard, Chief Physician at Aalborg University Hospital in Denmark, is unequivocal in his estimation of music’s value, asserting that “Healthcare staff should justify why they don’t use designed-sound environment[s], including acoustic regulation, to improve patient well-being.” In his view, the idea that music has substantial benefits for patients is “not news”:

The use of music intervention as a complementary therapeutic tool is well documented and should, from both a therapeutic and ethical point of view, be implemented in clinical practice.1

This sense of urgency is echoed by another presenter at the symposium, Kerstin Persson Waye, professor at the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Gothenburg University in Sweden, who points out that “perceived loudness has nearly doubled [in hospitals] over a 20-year period.” Indeed, according to Persson Waye’s review of “a large number of studies,” not a single one has “measured noise levels in intensive care units or neonatal wards that comply with the WHO recommended noise levels.”2

Not surprisingly, the astonishingly prescient Florence Nightingale is cited more than once in the various papers compiled for this event. For Nightingale, the importance of managing what patients hear was of paramount importance. Writing in 1859, she asserted that “unnecessary noise…is the most cruel absence of care which can be inflicted either on sick or well.”3

Again, we are left with the question: Why, 150 years after Nightingale’s observations about the importance of sound (and its absence) in the healing process, are noise management and designed-sound environments not the norm in healthcare settings instead of the exception? Perhaps you healthcare professionals out there remain unconvinced. Or maybe you are convinced, but there remain institutional roadblocks or impediments that we here at Brand Timbre aren’t aware of.

If you can shed any light on the matter, we want to hear from you and invite you, as always, to submit your comments.

Watch each speaker’s presentation here.

You can also download the six speakers’ symposium papers here.

1 Thorgaard, Per, (2013) Music intervention and Acute Illness. In Mossberg, Frand (Ed.) Care for Sound: Sound Environment, Healing & Health Care. Sound Environment Center at Lund University, Number 12.

2Persson Waye, Kerstin, (2013) A caring sound environment in hospitals? In Mossberg, Frand (Ed.) Care for Sound: Sound Environment, Healing & Health Care. Sound Environment Center at Lund University, Number 12.

3Nightingale, Florence (1974) [First published 1859]. Notes on Nursing: What it is and what it is not. Glasgow & London: Blackie & Son Ltd.