Use of meditation in pediatric medicine

Children who actively meditate experience lower activity in parts of the brain involved in rumination, mind wandering and depression, our team found in first brain imaging study of persons under the age of 18. Overactivity in this set of brain regions, known as the default mode network, is thought to be involved in the generation of negative self-directed thoughts, such as “I am such a failure,” which are prevalent in mental disorders such as depression.

In our study, we compared a simple form of distraction (counting down from 10) with two relatively simple forms of meditation: focused attention on the breath and conscious acceptance. Children in an MRI scanner had to use these techniques while watching distressing video clips, such as a child receive an injection.

We found that meditation techniques were more effective than distraction in suppressing activity in this brain network. This reinforces research from our lab and others showing that meditation techniques and martial arts-based meditation programs are effective in reducing pain and stress in children with cancer or other chronic illnesses— and in their brothers and sisters — as well as in schoolchildren during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This study, conducted by medical student Aneesh Hehris important because meditation techniques such as focused attention on the breath or conscious acceptance are popular in schools and are increasingly used to help children cope with stressful experiences. These can include exposure to trauma, medical treatment, or even stress related to COVID-19.

why is it important

Researchers know a lot about what happens in the brain and body in adults while they meditate, but comparable data for children are lacking. Understanding what happens in children’s brains when they meditate is important because the developing brain is wired differently than the adult brain.

These findings are also important because caregivers and healthcare providers often use distraction methods such as iPads or toys to help children cope with pain and distress, such as medical procedures. However, these techniques may rely heavily on the prefrontal cortex, which is underdeveloped among young people.

This means that stress and emotion regulation techniques that rely on the prefrontal cortex may work well for adults, but are likely less accessible to children. Meditation techniques may not rely on the prefrontal cortex and therefore may be more accessible and effective in helping children manage and cope with stress.

And after

We still have a lot to learn about how meditation affects brain development in children. This includes the most effective types of meditation techniques, their ideal frequency and duration, and how they affect children differently.

Our study focused on a relatively small sample of 12 children with active cancer, as well as survivors who may have experienced significant distress about diagnosis, treatment, and uncertainty about the future. Future studies with larger samples — including children with a greater diversity of diagnoses and exposures to early adversity or trauma — will help researchers better understand how meditation affects children’s brains and bodies. .

Our findings underscore the need to understand precisely how meditation techniques work. Exciting recent studies began to examine how participating in mindfulness and meditation programs can shape brain function in children.

Understanding how these techniques work is also key to optimizing how they might be applied in healthcare settings, such as dealing with needle-related procedures or helping children deal with the negative effects of stress and trauma. .

Hilary A. Marusak is a lecturer in psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University. This article is republished from The conversation.

Hilary A. Marusak

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