Creative Arts Therapies for Babies Born of the Addicted

I have received news that has made me extremely overjoyed and honored: I was named the first Honors College James S. Ruebel Fellow for International and Innovative Experiences and community initiatives. This fellowship was named and funded as a way to honor the legacy of Dean Ruebel who passed away shortly after impacting me greatly during the transition from high school to college. He was a man of intelligence, compassion, and had a passion for sharing the experience of traveling to and learning about new communities and cultures in a hands-on manner. My freshman integrated humanities class had plans to travel to Florence and Rome, Italy, in May of 2016, but Dr. Ruebel unfortunately became ill before we departed for the trip and we traveled without him. I have wished for an opportunity to share my developing goals and passions with him in his absence, and I feel this is exactly the reason I needed to engage in my community in this way. This paid fellowship will allow me distinct reason to pursue a “big idea” I’ve had for a few months now: doing a research study in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) evaluating the impacts of movement and music therapies on babies going through drug withdrawal or Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

In addition to honoring Dr. Ruebel and investigating potential non-pharmacological treatment methods for this at-risk population, I am excited for the chance to work with esteemed nurse researcher Dr. Renee Twibell in this process, as well as having several NICU RNs on our team. While the details and nature of this study are definitely still “in the works,” I have gathered research from the literature review and written a 10-page proposal in the process of applying for the fellowship and pitching the idea to Dr. Twibell, so I feel that the basis for this research is well underway. Though music therapy has been used extensively in the neonatal population and swings are often found in NICUs, I find it particularly interesting to analyze the lack of investigation into the use of movement with NAS babies, specifically.

A few highlights of the proposal and literature review include that the topics of movement therapy and NAS have not been studied extensively, meaning this study would be relatively leading-edge, and several online resources and medical researchers have published that perhaps movement interventions such as vertical rocking may “soothe a baby’s neurologic system,” (Intermountain Healthcare, 2014) though rocking beds are “not recommended in this population without further study,” (Maguire, pp. 207, 2014). So, further study, we will.

A research article published by Zuzarte, et. al. in April of 2017 showed that stochastic vibrotactile stimulation (SVS) “reduced hyperirritability and pathophysiological instabilities commonly observed in pharmacologically-managed opioid-exposed newborns [and] may provide an effective complementary therapeutic intervention for improving autonomic function in newborns with NAS.”

I could go on and on about the potential for nation-wide impact of this study, as we are facing an opioid crisis that unfortunately affects more than just the individuals physically addicted to the drugs. Though the mothers of these newborns may not realize the impact their addiction has on the future of their child, the physiological effects are real, and I believe treatments for these conditions can go far beyond pharmaceuticals. Follow my journey in this research study here! Please leave a message below if you have any input, comments, or articles you think may be beneficial for me to see.