Aug. 8, 2001 ATHENS, Ohio – Folks who feel faint at the prospect of donating blood should take heart: a new study suggests a little music and a movie could reduce the feelings of dizziness, nausea and other symptoms occasionally experienced by first-time blood donors. The findings could make the experience easier for donors, which might encourage them to become regulars at their local blood collection clinics.
For the study, published in the latest issue of the quarterly journal Psychosomatic Medicine, Ohio University health psychologists examined 112 first-time blood donors, half of whom were given individual headsets and goggles for viewing a 3-D video and listening to music. The other half was given nothing.
Before giving blood, participants were asked about how they handle stressful situations. Those who tended to seek out more information were called "monitors." Those who turned to distraction or denial to cope with stress were called "blunters." And it was this group that benefitted the most from the audiovisual program, said Christopher France, a professor of health psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences and leader of the study.
"It appears that people who prefer to avoid information about their stressors do best when there's something to distract them from the situation that's causing stress," said France, who added that earlier studies of distraction have involved either music or videotapes. "We wanted something that would have both the visual and audio component. The more senses you involve in the distraction, the better it's going to be."
The 3-D program used in the study was donated by Virtual I-O in Seattle. The cost of the goggles runs about $500 each. The video program included visions of people skiing down a mountain, walking in Paris and similar scenes, and was accompanied by an audio track of upbeat music.
That combination seemed to work: Donors classified as "blunters" who used the headsets and goggles were less likely to report symptoms of feeling faint than monitors who were offered no distraction at all.
Using distraction to keep donors' minds off needles and blood is not a new technique for blood collection clinics, France said. Many have a television in the donation room or play music over a stereo. But having control is important for many first-time donors – whether they tend to be monitors or blunters.
"The control is a pretty big issue," France said. "If you're given the remote control and a headset, then you get to decide just how much distraction you want."
The individual control also allows those donors who need such distraction to choose it. Donors who are monitors may not need distraction, but instead would benefit from talking in more detail with a staff member at the blood collection site. But a blunter would likely choose the audiovisual program.
"You'd give them a choice," France said, "and that's just the situation you want to create for them."
While only about 2 percent of people who donate blood actually faint, France said there are many more who experience symptoms of feeling faint, such as dizziness, nausea, weakness, difficulty breathing or a rapid heart rate. And studies by other researchers suggest these symptoms can deter donors from giving again. In times of blood shortages around the country, blood donation clinics rely on return donors to meet the demands of the nation's hospitals.
"I want the experience of the individual donor to be as pleasant as possible so they're encouraged to return," said France, who has been studying blood donors for about 15 years.
France is involved in another study in McGill University in Montreal, Canada, a project designed to determine just how much of an impact a negative donation experience has on a donor's willingness to give blood again. France expects to have data from that study, which is enrolling 1,200 donors, next year.
Co-authors of France's latest study in Psychosomatic Medicine include Valerie Bonk, a former clinical psychology doctoral student, and Brandie Taylor, a former psychology undergraduate student, both at Ohio University.
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