It’s no secret that cancer treatment and anxiety often go hand in hand. In 2014, Wake Forest University School of Medicine researchers found that 10.1% of adults who had survived cancer reported poor mental health, compared with 5.9% of adults who had never had cancer. In particular, chemotherapy, which involves the intravenous infusion of drugs in a hospital or clinic, has been shown to cause stress.
A weighted blanket could provide relief, according to a new study published in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing.
These blankets are filled with heavy materials, such as pellets, beads and plastic disks, rather than wool, cotton and down. They typically weigh between five and 30 pounds—the recommendation is about 10% of the user’s body weight.
Originally developed in the late 1990s to offset the hypersensitivity associated with autism, the blankets have since become widely popular nonprescription remedies for anxiety and insomnia. Proponents claim that they offer a physical experience similar to that of “deep touch pressure,” a therapeutic technique in which hands-on massage is used to stimulate the release of feel-good hormones, such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
To study their effectiveness at alleviating treatment-induced anxiety, chief investigator Jaime Vinson, BSN, RN, a clinical nurse specialist at Parkview Health System in Indiana, and colleagues recruited 58 cancer patients and randomly assigned them to cover themselves from the waist down with a standard-weight, medical-grade weighted blanket during either their first or second chemotherapy cycles.
Patients had to wear the blanket for a minimum of 15 minutes, after which, as the researchers noted in the study, they “were able to remove the weighted blanket if they did not like the sensation it provided, unlike pharmaceutical anxiety interventions whose effects can only decrease with time.”
Patient anxiety level was evaluated via two assessments 30 minutes after first contact with the blanket. During the first cycle, patients who used a weighted blanket reported feeling less anxious than patients who did not use a weighted blanket; the same was true of the second cycle.
Based on these results, the researchers concluded, “Implementing a nonpharmacologic therapy option, such as a weighted blanket, can help to reduce anxiety in patients receiving chemotherapy, improve the patient experience during treatment and decrease the use of medications to manage anxiety.”