Mindfulness interventions help to reduce distress symptoms for hospitalized patients with blood cancers

Many patients with blood cancers who need inpatient care experience high levels of both physical and emotional distress. A pilot study at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Mo., revealed that mindfulness exercises were effective in reducing symptoms of both types of distress.

The 30 patients enrolled in the study completed a pre-intervention Rotterdam Symptom Checklist (RSCL), rating the effects of 30 physical and emotional symptoms of distress experienced during the past week. After completion, a nurse taught patients how to do a 20-minute mindfulness activity, including a belly breathing exercise and body scan meditation, in their hospital rooms. Patients received a summary sheet and practice log, and were asked to continue the mindfulness exercises.

Two weeks later, the participants completed the RSCL checklist again and answered open-ended questions about their experience. An analysis of patient responses revealed a statistically significant reduction in physical and emotional distress symptoms (p<0.05). Patients reported that the mindfulness interventions helped them fall asleep and reduce their anxiety during MRIs. They also expressed interest in adding mindfulness exercises to their care.

Maggie Compernolle, B.S.N., R.N., from the Bone Marrow Transplant team at Barnes Jewish Hospital, presented the study results at the 2019 Transplantation & Cellular Therapy (TCT) Meetings. Ms. Compernolle suggested that this low-risk and low-cost intervention could be expanded to include recorded mindfulness exercises or informal classes. Additional uses for mindfulness exercises could be to help alleviate distress while waiting for medications, before or during procedures or to help ease treatment side effects.

She concluded that mindfulness should be written into the care plan to encourage patient participation and involvement. Using mindfulness can also have positive benefits for nurses, improving their own well-being. 

Read the study abstract