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Cogn Behav Ther. 2005;34(2):115-23.

A burden to others: a common source of distress for the terminally ill.

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Institute for Rehabilitation Research and Development, The Rehabilitation Centre, The Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, ON, Canada.


Recent research into the desire for death among people with terminal illness has begun to recognize the importance of "feeling oneself a burden to others" as a factor in suicidal behaviour. In this study, 69 patients with advanced cancer underwent semi-structured interviews. The sense of self-perceived burden was found to be a common experience, reported by 39.1% of participants as a minimal or mild concern and by 38% as a moderate to extreme concern. The sense of burden showed a low correlation with physical symptoms (r = 0.02-0.24) and higher correlations with psychological problems (r = 0.35-0.39) and existential issues (r = 0.45-0.49). Comparisons of participants with high or low levels of self-perceived burden showed the importance of this factor for overall quality of life. In summary, self-perceived burden is an important but underestimated dimension of social cognition in the medically ill.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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