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Intensive Care Unit Experience: Psychological Impact on Family Members of Patients with and Without TBI

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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