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Virtual/augmented reality playkit eases kids’ and parents’ anxieties ahead of MR scan

Press releases may be edited for formatting or style | November 08, 2023 MRI
Giving children a virtual/augmented (mixed) reality playkit to use ahead of an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan seems to ease both their and their parents’ anxieties about this procedure, suggest preliminary findings published in the open access journal BMJ Innovations.

Reducing the need to put a child to sleep, because of the noise and time required to keep still while in the MRI tunnel, could not only boost patient safety, but also cut costs and waiting times, suggest the researchers.

MRI has emerged as an important diagnostic tool in children’s healthcare because of the high quality images produced and lower radiation exposure than CT (computed tomography) scanning, which is particularly important for children with long term conditions, they explain.
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But the procedure can be lengthy, during which time patients must lie still. And it’s very noisy—up to 80 decibels—requiring the use of protective ear defenders, making it a challenging experience for many patients, especially children.

As a result, children are offered a general anaesthetic for the scan. But recent research and safety concerns about the potential impact of anaesthesia on a child’s developing brain have prompted an initiative to reduce the number of MRI scans carried out under sedation.

It is widely accepted that play can reduce children’s anxiety about medical treatment and procedures, and with that in mind, the researchers developed a playkit to help 4–10 year olds have an MRI scan without a general anaesthetic.

They deliberately designed it to require the help of an adult as parental anxiety can directly influence the level of a child.

The playkit consists of a flat-packed cardboard kit for building into a small toy MRI scanner, into which the child can place their toy.

A smartphone slotted into the side of the cardboard MRI scanner enables the child to take on the role of the radiographer, via an augmented reality app. Augmented reality superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world.

The child can then scan their toy with the addition of scanning noises to replicate the MRI experience. Afterwards, the child can swipe through various aspects of the real MRI images the radiographer plans to take.

The kit also includes an age appropriate virtual reality cardboard headset, which, along with the app, allows the child to walk through the hospital virtually, culminating in him/her entering the MRI scanner itself.

The walkthrough includes four interactive games to prepare the child for various aspects of their journey, such as checking in, being weighed, removing magnetic objects from clothing and staying still for the scan itself.

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