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UVA Studies Pain to Help Patients and Caregivers


The University of Virginia has won a $3.4 million grant to study pain.  The goal is to predict when it will become a problem, and to treat it before this difficult part of illness takes a toll on quality of life for patients and caregivers. 

Nursing Professor Virginia LeBaron has cared for cancer patients in this country and in places where pain medication is in short supply.  She also nursed a family member who suffered pain during the later stages of cancer, and she knows how difficult it can be for the patient and the caregiver.

“When family caregivers are asked to rank or rate caregiving activities that they find most stressful, pain management is at the top of that list,” she says.

And it’s often provided at home rather than the hospital, so LeBaron set out to find easy ways to monitor patients and their surroundings – to look for patterns that could warn of increasing pain and allow early treatment.

“Our environmental sensors are collecting data regarding things such as light and noise and barometric pressure and temperature," LeBaron explains.  "When pain events occur we then have this snapshot of the larger context around those events.”

The study through Hospice of the Piedmont and UVA’s Palliative Care Center will also provide patients and caregivers with smart watches so they can answer quick questions about emotional distress, pain and what measures are tried to relieve it. 

“On the smart watch there’s a custom application that allows patients and family caregivers to characterize their experience regarding pain and pain management that then allows us to really get a much more complete picture of what that experience is like.”   

With the help of a $3.4 million grant from the federal government, LeBaron hopes this research will make life more comfortable for patients and those who care for them at home.

***Editor's Note: The University of Virginia is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief