New head scanning machine designed to reduce anxiety

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Head scans in Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI machines, should become more comfortable thanks to work being done by Wellington researchers.

A MRI scanner room in a hospital.

A traditional MRI machine requires the patient to lie down during scanning. Photo: 123rf.com

MRI technology requires patients to lie still for an extended period of time in a fully enclosed tube to get a scan and for some, this causes claustrophobia and anxiety.

Dr Edgar Rodríguez – from Victoria University of Wellington – has been working on how to make the experience better for patients.

The project is being undertaken by researchers at the universities of Harvard, Yale, Minnesota, Colombia, Sao Paulo and Victoria University.

Rodríguez said many people experience anxiety during a scan, the teams have focused on how to reduce this through design.

The resulting machine looks much like a salon hairdryer, he said.

“We designed a purpose-built chair that you can fit from a very small person to a very big person and sitting up instead of lying down really helps in maintaining dignity for the patient.”

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It also has a window, allowing a person to see outside of the machine and talk to the clinician.

Other design features that help to reduce anxiety include a head rest that allows for movement in the body while the head is kept still and a remote control.

“They can adjust the chair but also they can get out of the scanner if for any reason they panic and need to get out.”

For the next two years the machine will go through clinical testing but Rodríguez says it will be a few years before it will be in full use.

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