Listening to stories can help children in intensive care feel less pain and stress, according to a study in Brazil.
Many children’s hospitals already have storytelling programs that aim to encourage patients. However, this research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that it also has physiological benefits.
“Until now, the positive evidence of storytelling was based on‘ common sense ’and was taken to the maximum, in which interacting with the child can distract, entertain and relieve psychological suffering,” Dr Jorge said Moll, of the Gold Research and Education Institute (IDOR), Brazil. “But it lacked a solid scientific basis, especially in terms of the underlying physiological mechanisms.”
The team, based at IDOR and the Federal University of ABC, in Brazil, studied 81 children between 2 and 7 years old, all of them in the intensive care unit of the Hospital Rede D’Or São Luiz Jabaquara of São Paulo. A group of 41 children each had a 25- to 30-minute session with a storyteller, while a control group of 40 children each spent the same time with the same professionals as instead of puzzles.
Before and after the sessions, the team took saliva samples from each child and assessed their level of pain. Saliva samples allowed researchers to measure levels of the hormones cortisol (which is stress-related) and oxytocin (which plays a role in empathy).
Both groups of children benefited from the interventions: they all had less cortisol and more oxytocin in their saliva, suggesting that they were less stressed and reported less pain and discomfort. However, the results were twice as strong for the narration group as the control group.
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Children also participated in a word association exercise at the end of the interventions with words such as “hospital,” “nurse,” and “doctor.” The team reported that while the children in the control group responded to the image of a hospital with “this is where people go when they are sick,” the storytelling group responded with “this is the place where people are going to get better. “
Similarly, the children in the control group said that “this is the bad woman who comes to give me an injection” in response to a doctor or nurse, while the storytelling group said that “this she is the woman who comes to heal me. “
“I consider this study to be one of the most important in which I have participated, due to its simplicity, rigor and potential direct impact on the practices of the hospital environment, with the aim of alleviating human suffering,” he said. Moll.
“Because it is a low-cost, highly secure intervention, it can potentially be implemented throughout the public system, once large-scale studies prove its reproducibility and effectiveness. We intend to expand and replicate it. in other settings and patient groups and to support volunteering dedicated to the noble activity of storytelling, now with more solid scientific evidence, ”he said.