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The BrightHearts research project is a collaboration with paediatrician Dr Angie Morrow, a Staff Specialist, at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Kids Rehab, and electronic artist and interaction design Dr George Poonkhin Khut. George and Angie are researching how George’s heart-rate controlled artworks can be adapted for use in a clinical setting – as biofeedback assisted relaxation-training games to help manage the pain and anxiety experienced by children who undergo recurrent painful procedures, such as injections for Botulinim (aka ‘Botox’) treatments, Baclofen pump changes, central line changes, and lumbar punctures.
The recurrent nature of these procedures can result in a build-up of anticipatory anxiety, causing significant distress to the children, exacerbating the perceived intensity of the painful stimulus during treatment, and further complicating veinipuncture procedures in cases of extreme vasoconstriction. If left un-addressed, the intense distress and anxiety experienced during these procedures can lead to avoidance behaviors that may stay with them into adulthood.
The aim of the BrightHearts project is to design, build and then test whether a creative, biofeedback assisted relaxation training ‘app’ can offer benefits above and beyond current iPad-based ‘distraction’ methods for children who under go painful recurrent procedures.
The goal of the interaction is for children to maintain a lowered heart rate: children are rewarded with sounds and visuals that respond to decreases in heart rate over different periods of time i.e. changes that they can influence with their breathing, and longer-term changes that require relaxation. Their approach combines standard distraction methods with the principals of biofeedback relaxation training, and interactive art – focusing children’s attention away from their object of their anxiety and fear, and helping them to develop skills for observing and regulating their response during painful procedures.
George’s design team have just completed a fully-functioning prototype sensor system that collects pulse data via an ear or finger clip sensor and transmits this to the iPad app via a Bluetooth wireless connection. Heart rate data recorded during the children’s interaction with the app can then be stored and uploaded along with data from interactive questionnaires that will allow the research team to analyze the effectiveness of the device for managing childrens pain and anxiety during medical procedures.
A pilot trial of the app with children undergoing painful procedures will take place in 2013, at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, to be followed by a clinical trial in 2014-2015.
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