New Treatment Option Shows Promise For Adolescents With Anorexia

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Limiting the number of people involved in a teenager’s treatment for anorexia may help make treatment more effective.

Family-Based Treatment (FBT) is currently the standard treatment for adolescents and teenagers struggling with anorexia, and involves the entire family into therapy sessions. That includes siblings and all other family members who live with the young person with anorexia. However, researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), The Royal Children’s Hospital and the University of Melbourne say Parent-Focused Treatment (PFT) may be a better option.

PFT doesn’t just limit the involved family members to parents. It requires parents to meet with the therapist alone, while a nurse monitors the patient. It also does not involve a family meal as part of therapy sessions, while FBT does.

According to the results of the study, PFT may increase the odds of remission by up to three-fold compared to those who receive FBT.

The researchers say the study is the largest single site trial of family therapy for adolescents with anorexia nervosa, including 107 patients who were randomized to receive either PFT or FBT between July 2010 and December 2015. The average age of participants in the study was 15-years-old and the majority (88%) were female.

The report says the average length of their illness was 10.5 months with more than one-third experiencing anorexia symptoms so severe they required hospital admission.

The participants underwent 18 outpatient sessions over a period of six months and were evaluated before starting treatment, at the end of treatment, and at six and 12 months after treatment.

Lead author, Professor Susan Sawyer, says there have been shockingly few clinical trials to evaluate interventions in adolescents with anorexia, despite it being the most deadly of all mental disorders. She also says reliable treatments for anorexia are still being sought, which makes these trials even more important.

“Given the impact of AN (anorexia nervosa) during adolescence and the years beyond, there remains a need to develop new and innovative treatment of adolescents with AN.

“This study demonstrates the importance of parents in assisting their children with AN to recover, a feature of both study arms. But in a highly innovative manner, where the separated model enables the attention of the therapist to focus solely on coaching parents, Parent-Focused Treatment led to more efficient recovery in the short term,” explained Professor Sawyer.

While PFT appeared to be significantly more effective at the end of the treatment period, researchers cautioned that remission rates were similar for both treatments at six and 12 months after treatment. However, Professor Daniel Le Grange, professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne and Benioff UCSF Professor in Children’s Health at the University of California San Francisco, said he believed PFT would be the preferred treatment method for many.

“PFT may facilitate broader dissemination of family therapy for adolescent AN,” said Professor Le Grange.

“This form of treatment may appeal to clinicians without formal family therapy training who are hesitant to work in a format that includes the patient, parents, other caregivers and siblings. PFT does not place any expectations upon siblings or the young patients, nor does it require the family meal scenario, which can be a challenging and confronting experience for the family.”

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