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Helping kids deal with a parent's cancer diagnosis; wearable brain improvement devices

Helping kids deal with a parent's cancer diagnosis; wearable brain improvement devices

June 15th, 2019 in Features

Q: I was recently diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. I have a 6- and 8-year-old, and I start chemo pretty soon. What's the best way to tell my kids about this without making them horribly upset?—Tessa G., Granville, Ohio

A: Well, first you have to be calm and collected yourself (you sound like you are), because kids pick up on your vibe. Then, tell the kids the basics—no frills or adjectives: You have breast cancer and all the facts indicate that you will be in good health after your treatment (the five-year survival rate is 99%). Then you can mention some of the side effects of treatment, such as hair loss, fatigue and nausea, and that they are worth it because the treatment is so effective. Sometimes when young kids see Mom feeling ill or her hair falling out, they think the treatments aren't working, so reassure them.

Also, the American Cancer Society says that if your kids know about someone else who's had cancer, you should point out the similarities and differences between their cancer and yours. Just don't tell your children more than they need to know. You can confuse kids and make them anxious if you load them up with too much information. So ...

- Pick a place and a time where you won't be interrupted.

- Calmly explain what's going on.

- Tell them it's not contagious and it's not because of anything anybody did. ("Sometimes cancer just happens.")

- Let them know that they'll always be taken care of, particularly if you are a single parent.   

- Then ask if they have any questions.

You know your kids. If after a couple of weeks you think they're not handling it well, ask at your treatment facility (they've seen it all) about kid counseling. Be aware of how you're feeling emotionally, too. You and your family can beat this, Tessa.

Q: My 11-year-old son has ADHD, and some other parents in his class who have kids with the condition are recommending that I get a brain stimulating device to help him focus. They swear by it. Is this BS (brain science) or the other BS?—Carlissa D., Sacramento, California

A: There is a lot of online conversation about these devices these days. With the dramatic increase in children diagnosed with ADHD, many parents are desperate to find a nondrug way to help ease symptoms. But we did research for a column on a similar topic about two years ago, and to this day it is difficult to find more than anecdotal evidence on the effectiveness of this kind of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) therapy. However, since our last report, there has been a dramatic growth in the marketplace for the devices like these, which don't need Food and Drug Administration approval, and the most disturbing aspect is that they're being marketed for use by children.

A red flag was raised recently by a team of Canadian neuroethicists from the University of British Columbia who published a paper in the journal Neuron. They reviewed 41 direct-to-consumer neurotechnology devices—19 were tDCS. The researchers pointed out that it doesn't seem ethical to market such devices for use by children whose brains are still developing, especially since there isn't solid research backing the manufacturers' claims of improved cognitive function and behavior. When it comes to kids, the researchers say extra caution is needed; we say, "Just say no."

But we do want to add, it is important to note that for adults these devices may (emphasis, may) offer short-term relief from stroke damage, Parkinson's disease and chronic pain by temporarily improving blood flow to the brain. They may also improve short-term memory and attention. But even if those immediate benefits turn out to be verifiable some day in a randomized, controlled experiment, there's been no documentation that these therapies have any lasting positive effect.


Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily@sharecare.com.

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