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Article Review highlights – Evaluation of HBOT Therapy

Some of what I have written in this review is technical – If you are interested in highlights you could check the intro and conclusion section directly

Some excerpts  from my scientific article review
Using behavior analysis to examine the outcomes of unproven therapies: An examination of hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Lerman, D. C., Sansbury, T., Hovanetz, A., Wolever, E., Garcia, A., O’Brien, E., & Adedipe, H. (2008). Using behavior analysis to examine the outcomes of unproven therapies: An examination of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 1, 50–58.

Introduction

Behavior Analysts are often confronted with a situation where parents of children with autism or other learning disabilities turn to other unproven, untested interventions ( also referred to as science fads, pseudo-scientific interventions etc.) in their search for improvement in their child’s rate of skill acquisition , reduction in inappropriate or challenging behaviors etc. Chelation therapy, vitamin doses, dietary restrictions etc. are some such examples. The BACB guidelines for responsible conduct enjoin Behavior analysts to study, appraise and review the likely effects of alternative treatments including those provided by other disciplines. The authors of this study have accordingly evaluated the effectiveness of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy – HBOT , a treatment that, while being expensive also has been gaining attention of parents of children with disabilities. Some parents have claimed that the therapy offers improvements in socialization, language, attending and compliance along with reductions in stereotypic behavior, aggression, disruption, self-injury etc. within 20 weeks. In keeping with the requirement not to turn a blind-eye but to scientifically and objectively evaluate alternate treatments or interventions, the authors have conducted this study.
The authors aim to validate their hypothesis that hyperbaric oxygen therapy does not offer any benefit beyond those offered by ongoing behavior analytic services and also lay down the procedures and challenges in conducting a behavior analytic intervention on unproven therapies.
Methods:
Particpants:
A 7year old girl and two 6 year old boys with 8months, 3.5 years and 4.5 years history of receiving behavior interventions were chosen for the study ( as the study proposes to determine if the alternative intervention can provide more benefits than ongoing behavior interventions).
Further parents of these children had requested HBOT therapy.

The setting for ongoing behavioral services was a private clinic providing behavioral services in 1:1 format as well as in small group formats. The education covered academics, communication, peer interaction, self-care and play. The HBOT therapy sessions were provided in a chamber with 88% oxygen at 1.3 ata sold for in-house use. The chamber dimensions when fully inflated were 233 cm length x 11 cm width and 86 cm diameter.

Dependent variables – Behaviors measured:
Improvements with the therapy are claimed to be in language, task engagement, compliance, socialization, as well as decreases in inappropriate behaviors. The authors used very specific and measurable behaviors as dependent variables in the study. For example, in the area of communication, spontaneous communication, defined as signs or words emitted without prompts was measured (number of occurrences per session). Task engagement was measured as exhibiting targeted response within 5 seconds of instruction with gaze directed at task materials or therapist. Problem behaviors such as hitting, throwing materials were measured in terms of responses per minute as the authors state that each such response had a discrete beginning and ending.

The intervention involved 40-60 minute HBOT sessions administered in the chamber described above upto a maximum of 40 dives per participant. Considerations in setting limits involved providing claimed minimum threshold exposures and minimizing exposure to the unproven therapy. Acclimatization procedures were used initially followed by 60 min sessions with the chamber activated to provide oxygen in specified concentration and with the child present with access to favorite toys, books etc. throughout. If for any reason the child did not get a full 60 minute exposure, the session was excluded from the study. A therapist recorded data for each dive in terms of start time, end time, pressurization start, time when full pressurization was reached and total time at full pressurization. These could be noted from the gauges in the equipment. While the authors describe the HBOT therapy implementation in detail, they have not done an independent evaluation of the accuracy of treatment procedure implementation (treatment integrity).

To study the effect on outcomes therapists videotaped 10 minute sessions  and recorded  data on spontaneous communication, task engagement and inappropriate behaviors. Handheld computers, or desktop pcs and instant data software were used for scoring the above from video tapes.
Further baseline (pre-treatment) sessions data has also been recorded for control purposes.

Results:
Two of the children showed increasing trends in task engagement in the baseline phases capturing the effect of ongoing behavioral interventions on the dependent variables. HBOT therapy did not change the level, trend or variability. For the third child while the levels of task engagement were variable throughout the baseline phase, the gradual increase continued during and after HBOT therapy again suggesting that HBOT therapy by itself did not contribute to any additional beneficial effects. A confound was identified as increase in prompt levels coinciding with withdrawal of HBOT therapy and this was addressed by rescoring to ascertain the level of increase in prompts and its effect on increased task engagement.
Similarly, for problem behaviors, with two of the children decrease in levels in baseline phase continued during intervention. A slight increase in problem with third child was observed.
Discussions and Conclusions
One firm conclusion that authors reach is that the additional cost of HBOT therapy does not result in concomitant increase in benefits. While discussing limitations, they refer to limited generality as the study involved only 3 participants, the need to evaluate the effects of more intense HBOT treatments with possibly higher concentrations, some non-controlled confounds such as a reduction in instruction time along with increased access to preferred activities during HBOT sessions etc.

References

Lerman, D. C., Sansbury, T., Hovanetz, A., Wolever, E., Garcia, A., O’Brien, E., & Adedipe, H. (2008). Using behavior analysis to examine the outcomes of unproven therapies: An examination of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 1, 50–58.

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