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Am J Crit Care. 2012 Nov;21(6):386-93; quiz 394. doi: 10.4037/ajcc2012582.

Psychological symptoms of family members of high-risk intensive care unit patients.

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Samuel Merritt University, School of Nursing, Oakland, California 94609, USA.



Family members of patients in intensive care are at increased risk for psychological symptoms.


To compare levels of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression during and 3 months after the intensive care experience in family members of patients at high risk for dying and to determine if differences were related to the patient's final disposition.


Longitudinal descriptive study of 41 family members in 3 tertiary care intensive care units.


By repeated-measures analysis of variance, family members' levels of posttraumatic stress disorder were significantly lower (P = .01) at 3 months after (mean score, 1.27; SD, 0.86) than during (mean, 1.61; SD, 0.81) the experience. Mean anxiety and depression scores were significantly lower (P < .001) after (anxiety: 7.35; SD, 3.91; depression: 5.63; SD, 4.58) than during (anxiety: 11.5; SD, 4.88; depression: 9.51; SD, 4.31) the experience. Scores for posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression did not differ significantly between family members of patients who died and family members of patients who survived. Yet, all 13 family members of deceased patients and 42% of the total sample of 41 had traumatic stress scores of 1.5 or greater. Among the total sample, 44% had significant anxiety, and 27% were depressed.


Family members' symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression significantly decreased 3 months after the intensive care experience and did not differ according to the patients' final disposition. However, many family members still had significant risk for posttraumatic stress disorder and borderline anxiety and depression at 3 months.

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