SAN DIEGO – Teens with chronic illnesses who participated in a program that consisted of mind-body principles and peer support demonstrated statistically significant positive changes in physical and mental well-being, anger, tension, and stress, in a pilot study.
“Young people living with serious chronic illnesses must deal not only with the physical effects and uncomfortable symptoms of their conditions, but must also endure significant psychosocial effects,” Dr. Brittany Blockman said in an interview in advance of the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies. “As we learn more about the impact of stress not only on mental health but also physical health, it will be important to design interventions and programs that address this vital, yet sometimes intangible area of health.”
Mind-body medicine focuses on the ways in which emotional, mental, social, and spiritual factors can directly impact health, said Dr. Blockman, a resident physician for the University of California, San Francisco’s Pediatric Leadership for the Underserved program. “Mind-body skills can enhance an individual’s sense of control and have been demonstrated to lower sympathetic arousal, decrease anxiety, and improve mood. Some examples of these modalities include meditation, mindfulness practices, breath work, yoga, biofeedback, and guided imagery. There is a growing body of literature reporting the positive physical and psychological health benefits of mind-body group interventions in various adult populations living with chronic illnesses, including improvements in quality of life, mood, pain, stress, coping skills, disease progression, and mortality. However, there is limited research exploring similar mind-body and group support interventions in pediatric and adolescent populations.”
Dr. Blockman and her associates enrolled 10 teens aged 13-18 years with chronic illnesses, and their parents, to study the impact of Communitas, a novel program that provides mind-body skills and peer support. Teens and parents met in separate groups 10 times for 2 hours at a time. Each session consisted of meditation, a lesson on guided imagery or some other mind-body technique, an exercise, and group sharing. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) Global Health Scale, the Profile of Mood States (POMS), the Brief COPE scale, the Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), the Perceived Stress Scale, and the Resilience Scale were administered before and after the 10 sessions.
The majority of teens (80%) were female; they attended an average of 7.3 sessions. Illnesses represented included juvenile idiopathic arthritis, cerebral palsy, type 1 diabetes, cancer, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, lung disease, spinal cord injury, and Wegener’s granulomatosis. Of the nine parents who participated, 75% were female; they completed an average of 7.5 sessions.
When Dr. Blockman and her associates compared baseline teen responses with those immediately after the 10-session intervention, they observed statistically significant effects on a number of scales, including the physical well-being subscale of the NIH PROMIS Global Health Scale (a mean increase of 1.56; P = .047); the mental well-being subscale of the NIH PROMIS Global Health Scale (a mean increase of 2.33; P = .025); the anger subscale of the POMS (a mean decrease of .54; P = .039); the tension subscale of the POMS (a mean decrease of .78; P = .006); the distraction/disengagement subscale of the Brief Cope (a mean decrease of .84; P = .035); and the Perceived Stress Scale (a mean decrease of 3.89; P = .005). The results for adults are still being analyzed.
“I was surprised at how willing the adolescents were to participate in the intervention and how engaged they were in the practices that were taught,” Dr. Blockman said. “It is our hope that the results of this study are helpful in thinking about the types of innovative interventions that may be useful in treating, healing, and supporting adolescents living with chronic illness, as well as their family members.”
She acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including the small sample size and the fact that there was no comparison group. “In the future, we plan to test our intervention further in a controlled trial design study, with a larger sample size. Another limitation is we cannot easily evaluate whether our positive results were attributable to the intervention content or the supportive nature of the intervention group. Our qualitative data may help us in teasing this apart.”
Dr. Blockman reported having no relevant financial conflicts.
On Twitter @dougbrunk