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AOWA and UWA study finds JIA camps enhances wellbeing, resilience, and social connection

By Hannah Raye, UWA Final Year Medical Student and Project Officer

Arthritis and Osteoporosis WA (AOWA) have organised and run Juvenile Arthritis Camps for children with JIA and related conditions since 1992.  These camps aim to support children to live well with arthritis and make the most of their physical capabilities and build resilience and social support mechanisms. While childhood camp participation has shown short-term benefits on the psychosocial aspects of chronic illness, the long-term benefits of these camps is still unknown.

To further investigate the possible benefits of participating in AOWA children’s camps, a collaborative research project was compiled between AOWA and their Manager of Health, Education and Research Programmes, Jennifer Persaud, with a medical student from the University of Western Australia (UWA), Hannah Raye. The current study aimed to explore whether the camps provide an effective intervention in the physical, social, and psychological aspects of chronic condition management. In doing so, the hope was that the study would validate what everyone at AOWA already knows – that camps provide a beneficial intervention in JIA, not only in the short-term setting, but also in the long-term transition to adulthood of camp participants!

Surveys were sent to adults who previously attended the JIA camp as children.  A series of questions were asked to evaluate the impact of childhood camp attendance on their adult lives. The results of the survey were overall positive in the physical, social, and psychological facets.

Having attended camps as children, respondents reported being better able to cope with pain.  They also experienced improvements in social life. They were also able to cope better with their emotions, reporting improvements in anxiety and mood. The following quotes from survey participants further elucidates the impact AOWA camps had on their lives.

 “I have made lifelong friends from being at camp and now am a leader and see other kids going through camp like me making friends. Camp is such a special, supportive environment for kids. Everyone is equal at camp. I feel camp is very beneficial for the campers emotional, physical and mental wellbeing.”

“JIA camp changed my life. I would not be the person I am today without it. I would be a lot more negative, depressed and physically disabled. It has been more than 15 years since I left camp as a camper however, I still regularly see my ex-camper friends. Camp has helped me learn to cope with challenges in my life and has even guided my career.”

Overall, the project has added support to the already surrounding literature that childhood camps provide a valid intervention for the physical, social, and psychological aspects of individuals adversely affected by JIA. These findings add to the support for the continued good works provided by AOWA to a population in need of holistic management.

AOWA’s level of organisation and commitment to the individuals it serves through these camps exemplifies the generous nature of the employees and volunteers involved in this vital organisation. AOWA is also involved in providing ongoing education to clinicians regarding the management of arthritis. The collaboration between AOWA and UWA is one facet of the continued education it provides for aspiring doctors at an integral point in their medical careers.

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