Study to Examine If Music-based Play Intervention Helps Young Cancer Patients and Their Parents

cancer
Sheri Robb

An Indiana University School of Nursing researcher has been awarded $1.4 million to determine if a music therapy intervention can be used to manage acute distress in young cancer patients ages 3 to 8 and their parents.

Sheri Robb received the award from the National Institutes of Health. She will lead a team of researchers at Riley Hospital in Indianapolis, Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta that will examine the impact of play and a specific music-based play intervention on the shared distress that parents and children experience when the child is undergoing intensive chemotherapy.

A total of 184 pairs of children and parents will be enrolled in the study at the hospitals during the next two years.

“The interventions were designed to diminish parent-child distress that occurs when the child is undergoing cancer treatment and at the same time improve their quality of life and family functioning overall,” Robb said.

Robb said it’s well-known that young children cope with difficult life experiences through play. The interventions to be studied include a stories program and a music play intervention that is delivered to both parent and child by a board-certified music therapist, she said.

“The therapist is trained to tailor music experiences to the specific needs of the child and parent while at the same time providing resources to parents about how they can use music and play between therapist visits,” Robb said. The therapists will work with the children and their parents while the children are receiving chemotherapy at the hospitals.

In addition to examining whether these programs can reduce distress, the researchers will also be examining “how” the intervention works, or the underlying mechanisms that are responsible for any benefits that children and parents might experience as a result of the interventions.

Up to 75 percent of young children and about 50 percent of parents experience significant emotional distress as the children undergo cancer treatments, Robb said.

“We know that the distress these children and their parents experience during active cancer treatment is related to the incidence of things like traumatic stress symptoms after treatment ends,” Robb said. “Part of the goal of the intervention is to see whether bringing in an intervention that helps buffer the stress children and their parents face during active cancer treatment can also prevent the incidence of traumatic stress symptoms after treatment ends.”