Magic Therapy

Research teams are assessing the long-term effects of using magic tricks to improve the motor skills of children with upper limb motor disorders such as hemiplegia and paralysis in an international project at Guy's Hospital, London, Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv and Tel Aviv University.

The project is the first of its kind and reflects the Charity's commitment to investing in innovative health interventions, incorporating the arts into them where possible, and evaluating the impact on clinical outcomes.

A pilot scheme in 2009 saw Magic Circle magicians working alongside occupational therapists from the Evelina Children's Hospital at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust to develop a series of simple magic tricks that replicate the movements taught in conventional therapy sessions, helping to make them more enjoyable and encouraging children to keep up the practice at home.

Since then, 10 day magic camps have taken place at Guy's Hospital and in Tel Aviv during 2010, in Tel Aviv in 2011 and again on the Guy's Hospital site in 2012.

2012's research project, which is led by Breathe Arts Health Research with a grant of £32,000 from the Charity, aims to build on the evidence base of the first project to demonstrate that magic therapy tricks really can improve the clinical outcomes of intensive rehabilitation.

Health professionals assess participants two to four weeks before the camp starts, then again at the camp's start and end to measure their progress, and at three and six-month intervals to assess the programme's lasting impact.

Meanwhile, a multi-disciplinary team, including clinicians from Guy's Hospital, King's College Hospital and researchers at KCL, is using a variety of tests to study the children's brains, including neuro-imaging and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.

Dr Dido Green of Breathe Arts Health Research and Reader in Rehabilitation at Oxford Brookes University is working on a formal assessment of the programme, which involves evaluating improvements in independence in daily activities by assessing bi-manual motor skills as a primary outcome, and performance in bi-manual and uni-manual tasks as secondary outcomes. This information will help in developing targeted interventions, while researchers also analyse the effects of intervention on a range of skills over time, along with the neurological representation of movement and interaction of key defined factors.

Dr Green says: "Our research shows that, before the magic camp the children could use their weaker hand in a quarter of typical two-handed activities. After the camp they were performing more tasks independently and using both hands more than 90 per cent of the time. At the three month follow-up, the children's enthusiasm was still high and they had significantly increased the number of two-handed activities they did successfully.

 "Evaluation of the camp also shows the magic therapy had a major impact on the children's independence in daily activities - helping them to learn tasks such as using cutlery and tying their shoe laces. These tasks become hugely significant when you can't do them, so being able to do them has had a major positive impact on the children's self-confidence, allowing them to feel the same as their friends."

‪Amarlie Moore, paediatric occupational therapist at the Evelina says: "Most children have demonstrated markedly improved hand skills following the camp, in terms of spontaneous use of the affected limb, strength, grasp, ability to release, and the timing and coordination of movements. One child, for example, tended to avoid using her hand at all. During the camp the strength and coordination of her affected limb improved dramatically and she now uses it spontaneously, carrying out actions she was unable to do before."

 The venture reflects the ethos of King's Health Partners, the Academic Health Science Centre that brings together three leading NHS Foundation Trusts and an academic partner, King's College, London (KCL), in a bid to speed up the integration of research into clinical practice and get excellent services to patients as quickly as possible.

Yvonne Farquharson, Performing Arts Manager at Guy's and St Thomas' Charity and Director of Breathe Arts Health Research, says:"Breathe Magic Camps have demonstrated how injecting creativity into healthcare can have a significant impact on clinical outcomes. Robust medical research and evaluation are essential to proving the value of the arts in healthcare, and the research data we have collected as part of this project demonstrate just this. Breathe Magic Camps have been life-changing for those involved and we are excited about the possibility of rolling out this new form of therapy to benefit children nationally and internationally in the future."


To watch the video of the magic therapy project, please click here