iPads may be just as effective as sedatives at calming kids down before surgery

Could tablets help reduce stress in young pre-op patients?.
Could tablets help reduce stress in young pre-op patients?. AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

We’ve all heard of parents handing their child a smartphone or tablet in order to distract them – but doctors could soon turn to the same technique in order to calm kids down before major medical procedures.

New research by French researchers suggests that allowing children ages four to 10 use an iPad before going into surgery that requires general anaesthesia is more effective at lowering their anxiety than conventional sedatives, which, in turn, allows the anesthesia to work better.

The research – presented during the World Congress of Anaesthesiologists in Hong Kong this weekend – compared the effects of the sedative Midazolam on 54 children, to that of 58 other kids who were handed an iPad to play games on for 20 minutes prior to receiving anaesthesia.

READ MORE: Top apps that give parents control over kids screen time

Kids who were tasked with playing with the iPad received anaesthesia much easier because they were distracted.

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However, the study also monitored the stress level of the child’s parents throughout the process and found that the parents experienced much less stress when their child was distracted by a tablet.

“Use of iPads or other tablet devices is a non-pharmacologic tool which can reduce perioperative stress without any sedative effect in paediatric ambulatory surgery,” said French researcher Dr Dominique Chassard.

This isn’t the first study to suggest that children may fare better with visual and audio distractions, instead of drugs.

A 2006 study found that video games provided a good cognitive distraction for children who were about to undergo surgery. That study also noted that hand-held video game consoles could be purchased at a low cost, cutting down on the cost of medication.

WATCH: High tech waiting room helps keep kids healthy and stress-free

Ontario’s Holland Bloorview hospital, a child rehabilitation centre, also uses technology in its waiting rooms to help keep kids calm and distracted while waiting for doctors appointments. The hospital features a touch-less interactive display that allows children to build structures using blocks by walking around on colour coded flooring – plus, a touch-less display makes for less germs.

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In a trial of over 300 children, the health centre found the interactive display significantly reduced anxiety and stress for young patients.

“These type of activities before going into the doctor is relaxing in a way,” said mother Andrea Davila.

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