A study out of Concordia University suggest small electronic devices could reduce pain in childhood cancer survivors by helping them breathe better.

Associate professor in psychology Nicole Alberts led a study asking whether adult survivors of childhood cancer would be willing to click on wearable technology to monitor their respiration combined with deep breathing exercises to alleviate their pain.

The study was published in the journal JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics.

“Digital health uses app-based or web-based interventions that build on evidence-based treatments,” said Alberts in a news release. “A wearable can deliver interventions like deep breathing to people in an easier way.”

Nicole Alberts

“A wearable device can deliver interventions like deep breathing to people in an easier way,” said researcher Nicole Alberts. SOURCE: Concordia University

Alberts’ study says 40 per cent of childhood cancer survivors experience chronic pain “with many also reporting pain-related disability.”

The researchers involved were interested in pursuing non-pharmacological treatments for pain such as deep breathing exercises paired with digital technology.

They asked volunteers to wear a clip-on Spire Stone respiration monitor during waking hours and practice daily five-to-eight-minute breathing exercises.

The device measured breathing patterns and classified them as calm (slower), tense (rapid or erratic) or focused (normal).

“Tense” breathing for more than two minutes sent alerts reminding participants to take deep breaths.

“Our main goal was to answer the question, ‘are wearables acceptable to participants, and is it feasible for them to wear a device daily?’” said Alberts. “But we also wanted to see if there was any preliminary efficacy. Were there any changes in pain and anxiety as well as other outcomes?”

The innovations, researchers feel, would significantly improve access to treatment for people living in remote locations or experiencing reduced mobility.

Sixty-five adult volunteers from the U.S. Childhood Cancer Survivor Study took part.

They had all been diagnosed with cancer before they were 21 and reported chronic pain.

Those who wore the tech reported an improvement in pain relief, but Alberts said larger studies are needed to explore the findings further.

She believes, however, that wearable technology has potential in expanding therapies especially for those who have limited access to psychologists and other health-care providers, who deliver non-pharmaceutical treatment.

“It’s one way of getting an intervention out to a lot of people that could be fairly low-cost and low-resource,” said Alberts. “It also bears further investigation to determine if the addition of this kind of intervention to a patient’s in-person or virtual chronic pain treatment would keep them more engaged or potentially result in even greater improvements in pain and well-being.”  


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