Monday, June 15, 2015

Children with burns recover better than previously thought

Groningen: Burn injury has a major impact on children and it seems logical that this would affect children’s physical functioning. Yet, it appears that after three months children with burns are equally independent in the performance of tasks of daily living as non-burned peers. Furthermore, their long-term physical fitness is similar to that of children who have not suffered burns. This is the conclusion of clinical studies by human movement scientist Laurien Disseldorp of the University Medical Center Groningen. Disseldorp will defend her thesis at the University of Groningen on June 16th.

The survival rate in patients with burns has increased enormously over the last decades, because of improvements in burn treatment and care. As nowadays more patients survive, functioning in the life after burns becomes more and more important. The consequences of burn injury can persist in the long term. This is highly undesirable, especially in children, who form a risk group for burn injury and have their whole lives ahead of them. In her study, Laurien Disseldorp focuses on the physical functioning of children with burns. Disseldorp investigated whether these children’s physical functioning was affected by their injuries. In this context she studied the patients’ ‘functional independence’ and ‘physical fitness’.

Functional independence

Functional independence, which refers to the level of independence in the execution of tasks of daily living, was measured in 119 children up to 16 years of age. All these children had been hospitalized for a period of at least 24 hours in a burn centre in the Netherlands. Disseldorp investigated whether the children did, for example, bathe, dress and groom themselves. This was measured at two weeks, three months and six months after the burns. Her study shows that within three months the great majority of children had regained a level of functional independence appropriate for their age.

Physical fitness

Physical fitness of children after burns was measured as their ability to perform physical activity. Disseldorp
studied aspects such as body composition, muscular strength and exercise capacity in 24 patients aged between 6 and 18, at one to five years after they had suffered burn injuries. Measurements took place in a ‘mobile exercise lab’ near the participant’s home. Her study shows that in terms of body composition, muscular strength and exercise capacity this group did not differ from their unaffected peers.

Resilient recovery

These results are remarkable, because the existing scientific literature showed that the physical fitness of children is seriously affected by burn injuries. According to Disseldorp, this is largely due to the fact that so far research had only been performed on children with burns involving more than 40% of the total body surface. However, such extensive burn injuries are rare in the Netherlands. In her thesis, Disseldorp also emphasizes how important physical activity is for an optimal recovery from burns. Disseldorp: ‘My research shows how resilient children are in the recovery after burn injury. However, we should not overlook the fact that some people do experience physical limitations after burns and that there are other factors, such as psychosocial consequences, that may impact their quality of life.’