Doctors explore how to reduce child's anxiety before surgery

Distracting children before surgery may help reduce their anxiety, child surgery expert suggests.

Canadian and American medical researchers are studying the best way to reduce a child's anxiety before surgery.

When John Gojevic recalls his daughter Rachel's double lung transplant eight years ago, tears well up as he remembers doctors telling him he could not enter the operating room with his 12-year-old.

"What we were able to do is, we gave her a teddy bear that she held onto as she rolled away," said Gojevic. "It would have been nice to be there to hold her hand while they put her under the general."

More hospitals are now allowing parents into the operating room as their child is put to sleep, but studies suggest how a parent acts can either increase or decrease a child's anxiety.

At the International Association of the Study of Pain's conference in Vancouver this week, researchers are discussing different approaches.

Dr. Zeev Kain, a professor of anesthesiology, pediatrics and child psychiatry at Yale University's school of medicine, has been studying child surgeries for years.

One of Kain's preliminary conclusions is that parents should try distracting their children in the operating room, rather than telling them not to worry.

"The question is, what should the parent do in order to decrease the anxiety of the child?" said Kain. "We think it's distraction, but we really have to show that's what they need to do."

Anesthesiologist Carolyn Montgomery at the B.C. Children's Hospital calls Kain's research important, saying the medical community and parents need hard facts.

"One of the things that's been most reassuring in the scientific community is rather than doing things intuitively, we're trying to base how we're doing our activities based on very sound research," said Montgomery.

Doctors believe reducing a child's anxiety before surgery many not only improve the overall hospital experience, but also shorten the recovery time.