Music Therapy Program Benefits Rett Patients, Parents, Study Shows

Jonathan Grinstein avatar

by Jonathan Grinstein |

Share this article:

Share article via email
Music therapy

A 6-month music therapy program improved social interaction and communication skills and reduced seizure occurrence among Rett syndrome patients, as well as relieving parental stress, a new study showed.

The research article, “The effectiveness of music therapy for individuals with Rett syndrome and their families,” was published in the Journal of the Formosan Medical Association.

Music therapy is a promising avenue for treating symptoms of neurological diseases. It can improve social interaction and verbal skills as well as emotional verbal exchanges in autism spectrum disorder individuals.

In some reports of individuals or small groups of Rett patients, researchers have seen signs of improved communication in response to music therapy.

Parents of children with Rett syndrome are likely to experience elevated stress over long periods. This can negatively affect the health of their child and become a vicious circle.

There is also some evidence that music therapy can improve parent-children interaction. It may promote increased awareness and nonverbal communication between parents and children as well as improving the Rett patient’s basic social skills.

Understanding the causes and management of parental stress among families of children with chronic diseases or developmental delays is an important area of research. However, there is a lack of in-depth cohort studies of music therapy’s effect on Rett families.

Researchers at Taiwan’s Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital studied 23 families of Rett patients who were receiving regular follow-up care for the utility of music therapy. The families were split so that half participated in a 24-week program and the others did not (control group). The participants were examined before and after this 24-week period for changes in behavior, symptoms, and well-being.

“To the best of our knowledge, the current study is the first prospective cohort study to investigate the effects of music therapy on Rett using numerous subjects and a variety of functional assessment tools,” researchers stated.

This study showed evidence of alleviating symptoms or hindrances associated with Rett, including:

  • Deficits in social interaction;
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication;
  • Orofacial/respiration (e.g., bruxism, bloating, hyperventilation);
  • Motor/physical functioning (e.g., stereotypic hand movements, autonomic dysfunction, gait apraxia).

Notably, music therapy benefited Rett syndrome patients with refractory epilepsy. The team observed a trend toward reductions in seizure frequency after completion of the program.

The researchers also demonstrated improvements in Rett patients’ hand-gripping abilities and eye contact duration after music therapy. They propose that this program can help alleviate behavioral problems and neurofunctional deficits associated with Rett syndrome. 

Music therapy was not only beneficial for Rett patients, but it also improved their caregivers’ quality of life.

The researchers observed more pronounced differences in parental stress between the study and control groups, both in terms of parent and child characteristics, after completion of the program.

“Our study demonstrated that study group patients exhibited improvement across a variety of domains, including nonverbal communication, social interaction, abnormal respiratory patterns, hand-gripping ability, eye gazing, and seizure reduction, which, in turn, helped relieve parental stress,” researchers said. “In contrast, parents in the control group continued to exhibit elevated levels of parenting stress after music therapy.”

However, the study had some limitations, including the fact that music therapy was implemented in a group setting, and there were possible combined effects between music and group therapy.

Group therapy has been shown to decrease “parenting depression of mother of autistic spectrum disorder patients and improve social skill in autistic spectrum disorder patients,” researchers said.

The team recommends that future studies should compare the effects of group and music therapy on parental stress in Rett syndrome families.