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Witnessing a parent or older relative in pain can be distressing and even confusing for a child unable to empathise or comprehend what is happening. And in turn, grandparents or older relatives can feel angry and frustrated by the effect chronic pain has on their everyday lives, such as forcing them to cancel family outings or restrict time with grandchildren.

Now comic book superheroes are being used in an innovative way to help children understand more about older relatives suffering from chronic pain.

Teesside University Professor Denis Martin has been working with Medikidz and academics at the universities of Dundee, Aberdeen, Greenwich and Northumbria to use comics to help children understand what the older adult with chronic pain is experiencing.

Medikidz is an international company which produces award-winning comics featuring Marvel inspired superheroes to put medical information into plain words which children can understand. They have distributed over two million copies of their comics worldwide, to 50 countries in 28 different languages.

The comic is one of the products from a collaboration between the university partners in the UK Research Council-funded £1.2m EOPIC (Engaging with Older People and Their Carers to Develop Interventions for the Self-management of Chronic Pain) Project.

Medikidz already produces material to explain to children about their own medical conditions, but working with the EOPIC team, they focused on material to inform a child about the older relative’s condition.

The book - What’s Up with Moira’s Grandad: Medikidz Explains Chronic Pain - portrays a typical scenario, which involves a child not understanding why their grandparent has suddenly cancelled time they’d planned to spend with them. The child is left upset, thinking the grandparent simply isn’t bothered - while the grandparent is frustrated and angry at having felt forced to cancel due to difficulty in coping with chronic pain.

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Professor Denis Martin, Teesside University

"'The idea for the comic came about as we were talking to older people to find out their ideas on how to improve the lives of older people living with chronic pain. We learned that there was a need to help grandchildren to better understand the experiences of a grandparent living with chronic pain. The relationship with grandchildren can be badly affected. For example, older people were saying they feel frustrated when forced to cancel family events or time they’d planned to spend with a grandchild, because they couldn’t predict when their pain would flare up.'

It can be difficult for a child to understand because they can’t see the pain which is making their grandparent miserable and feeling unable to do day-to-day things. We wanted to use that information to develop a product which would help younger relatives understand what the older person is going through, given the lack of information available to help that communication.'

In the story the child is taken on a journey through the human body, with the Medikidz superheroes explaining about chronic pain and how it impacts on someone’s life.

Pain doesn’t just impact on the individual, it can also impact on the relationship they have with family and friends. The happy conclusion shows the child with a better understanding of their grandparent’s situation Our main aim is to help older people living with chronic pain by helping to maintain the relationships they have with grandchildren and their family.

The main issue is knowledge, empathy and communication, which this aims to address. It takes very technical information and puts it across in a very simple, informative way. The feedback we’ve had is very positive.’

Professor Martin presented the comic at a conference organised by the American Pain Society in New Orleans. Any clinics interested in using the comics can contact Professor Martin at d.martin@tees.ac.uk

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