Children's memories for events relating to treatment for eye cancer: influence of age at loss of eye

Norgate, Sarah and Littleton, Karen (2011). Children's memories for events relating to treatment for eye cancer: influence of age at loss of eye. Infant Mental Health Journal, 32(5) pp. 563–577.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/imhj.20309

Abstract

Treatment for retinoblastoma frequently involves removal of at least one eye in the first 5 years. Variation in age of treatment leads to the assumption that children's later verbal accessibility of early traumatic memories may vary, with some children having less opportunity to make sense of their condition. Video recordings were made of 17 children who had undergone enucleation either before 24 months (n = 8) or after 24 months (n = 9) involved in “hospital play'' using props designed to elicit talk about “eyes.” The hypothesis that a larger number of verbalizations about medical procedures would occur in children enucleated after 24 months than before 24 months was supported. Children enucleated after 24 months engaged in significantly more talk about enucleation and/or examination under anesthetic whereas none of the children enucleated in infancy talked about these medical events. The outcome supports the view that there is a transition around 24 months in the extent to which children can have verbal access to previous traumatic memories. The design of interventions needs to take into account that children enucleated in infancy have less opportunity for later verbal access to early memories of traumatic events than those treated later, leading to possible misconceptions about their own condition.

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