Patients in a vegetative state may never recover from their severe brain
injuries and regain consciousness. The family members of these patients
are under an extreme mental and psychological burden in that they know
there is limited chance of recovery, even with signs of primitive responsiveness.
This paradox between signs of life and death can create complicated feelings
of grief in family members. The decreased interest in social activity,
loss of interest in friends and hobbies, and feelings of isolation that
may be experienced by a family member can often be interpreted as depression.
A recent study, however, proposed that Prolonged Grief Disorder (an intense
feeling of longing and yearning for the lost person) is a better description
of their feelings.
The study determined that depression and Prolonged Grief Disorder are two
distinct conditions. A family member may experience both conditions, but
those who suffer from Prolonged Grief Disorder are at much higher risk
of experiencing a chronic and disabling psychological state that puts
them at great risk for suicide. Prolonged Grief Disorder should therefore
be acknowledged and treated as a distinct condition common in family members
of patients in a vegetative state.
Chiambretto P, Moroni L, Guarnerio C, Bertolotti G, & Prigerson H.
Prolonged grief and depression in caregivers of patients in vegetative state.
Brain Injury. (April 2010).