Making Cancer Treatment Easier for Kids
Cancer and blood disorder treatments can be very scary for kids — full of loud, unfamiliar noises, bright lights, strange people, discomfort and pain. For children with high anxiety, special needs or ongoing pain, doctor visits and treatment sessions can be nearly unbearable. That’s why Roswell Park Child Life Specialist Jessica Krahmer wanted to create a special environment that would ease the experience for them. She was able to develop it and put it into action thanks to generous donations made through Roswell Park’s Quality-of-Life Program.
It’s called a multisensory environment, and it helps children by creating distraction or relaxation. Different institutions set theirs up in different ways, according to their facilities and patient needs. So in the outpatient setting of the Katherine, Anne and Donna Gioia Pediatric Hematology Oncology Center, based on the space, the layout and the way the clinic runs, Krahmer determined that a set of individual, portable products would work best.
“This way we could have multiple items out at once and in use by different patients. So instead of having one large item on wheels or one full room, it made sense to have multiple items that we can bring together to change the environment or use in different rooms. It’s all about what the patient needs in the moment,” she says.
The products she chose for Roswell Park’s pediatric patients are a tabletop bubble tube; fiber optics; an LED projector and slides; weighted blankets; noise-reduction headphones; and a sound machine. Krahmer begins by assessing each patient’s needs and talking with parents or guardians about the positive effects the products could have for their child. Each item helps by providing distraction; control; relaxation; de-escalation; and/or normalization. If a child needs help relaxing for their treatment, for instance, Krahmer or another member of the psychosocial or medical staff might bring in a weighted blanket, whose pressure relaxes the body by making you feel like you’re getting a warm hug. Or if the patient is feeling anxious and needs distraction, they might try the LED projector and slides. Together they can talk about the pictures on the slides, and the child can create a story about them.
Krahmer was a student when she first learned about the effect the multisensory environment can have. “One reason that I’m a big believer in sensory items is because as a student, I worked with an 8-year-old patient who had spinal muscular atrophy. She was in a lot of pain, and the medical team was having a hard time controlling it. But when the sensory items were brought into her room, you would physically see her relax more, and you could track her heartbeat going from high into a normal range because she felt so much more relaxed. And that was one of the only times when they could get her heartbeat down, get her relaxed and control her pain.
“Having watched that made me realize how big an impact these items can have on a child in any of those three categories. I think pain is the one where people are surprised it works. But it’s the same theory as distraction, and when you’re distracted, you can be not thinking about your pain. We know that when you’re relaxed, like just taking deep breaths, it can limit pain. That was my inspiration coming into this project and applying for the grant. That I know that these children go through a lot, and they are constantly, constantly battling something, and this is a non-pharmaceutical way, a very simple way, that we can help them.”
Patient families that think their child could benefit from the multisensory program may contact Jessica Krahmer at 716-845-1300 ext. 6282 or Jessica.Krahmer@roswellpark.org.
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