Each year in the United States, approximately five million people are admitted
to an intensive care unit (ICU) for an injury or illness. The ICU environment
can be stressful or anxiety inducing for these patients and for their
family members, who must often balance the medical needs of their loved
ones while still attending to finances and other personal responsibilities.
A recent study investigated the effects of ICU admittance due to a
traumatic brain injury (TBI) in particular. Researchers assessed eighty-two family members in
an ICU (half of whose loved ones were admitted for TBI) with the Patient
Health Questionnaire (PHQ) to measure depression and the Primary Care
PTSD Screen (PC-PTSD) to identify any symptoms of post-traumatic stress
disorder. Both TBI families and non-TBI families scored similarly on both
assessments while in the ICU. However, when researchers reassessed the
families three months later, they found that the non-TBI group showed
a significant decrease in depression and PTSD symptoms in comparison to
the TBI group.
Stress, anxiety, and depression are natural reactions to a loved one’s
injury or illness. However, the nature and longevity of these symptoms
may vary based on the patient’s reason for admittance. When advising
families during the recovery period, clinicians should consider that families
of TBI patients may need specialized emotional guidance during this difficult time.
Source: Warren AM, Bennett M, Rainey EE, et al. Intensive care unit experience:
Psychological impact on family members of patients with and without traumatic
brain injury. Rehabilitation Psychology. (2016).
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