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Art therapy and social function in palliative care patients: a mixed-method pilot study

Abstract

Objectives To evaluate the influence of art therapy in reducing palliative symptoms, on social availability and on perceptions of aesthetics in hospitalised palliative care patients. The secondary objective was to evaluate its influence on bereaved families.

Methods A mixed-method quasi-experimental before and after study comprising a follow-up postal survey of bereaved families. All patients who were keen to have art therapy sessions were eligible. We used patient-reported outcome scales 5 min before and after the session. The Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale has been used for pain, anxiety, well-being, fatigue and depression. Ten-point visual analogue scales were used for social availability, lack of desire and wishes, and perceptions of aesthetics based on the Beautiful–Well–Good model. A postal survey was sent to bereaved families. Correlations and data mining analyses were performed.

Results In all, 24 patients were recruited for a total of 53 art therapy sessions analysed. Seven families completed the survey. Art therapy significantly reduced the assessed symptoms and overall symptom distress by 54.4% (p <0.001, d = 1.08). It also decreased the feeling of social unavailability (−59%, d = 0.67) and the lack of desire and wishes (−60%, d=0.86). The analysis of the family questionnaires indicates the positive effects regarding support, artwork and feelings during illness and grief.

Conclusion Our results suggest an overall improvement in the symptoms experienced and social functioning of palliative patients. Based on our findings, we propose a model for the potential mechanism of action of art therapy.

  • art therapy
  • cancer
  • palliative care
  • symptoms and symptom management
  • aesthetics
  • complementary therapy

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