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Caregivers Of ICU Patients Found To Have High Risk Of Mental Health Problems

When it comes to the intensive care unit (ICU), most ordinary people would be under the impression that the health and well-being of patients, whether current or recently discharged, is the primary area of concern in this area of healthcare. However, a recent study conducted by Canada’s RECOVER Program shows that the health of caregivers of patients discharged from the ICU is in fact at serious risk as well.

Risk factors of ICU caregivers

Dr. Jill Cameron of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-University Health Network and Dr. Margaret Herridge of the Toronto General Research Institute led the study with the intention of identifying risk factors for both intensive care patients and their families.

Dr. Cameron states, “In the world of critical illness, a lot of research has focused on making sure people survive -- and now that people are surviving, we need to ask ourselves, what does quality of life and wellbeing look like afterwards for both patients and caregivers.”

Currently, this ‘quality of life’ is of the highest cause for concern. Of the nearly 240 caregivers who completed mental health assessments, 43 percent were found to be at high risk for clinical depression one year after their related patient was released from the ICU. Other symptoms associated with a caregiving relationship with an ICU patient include emotional distress, caregiver burden, compromised personal health, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

This newfound information is vitally important not only because of the personal health risks of the caregivers, but because negative caregiver outcomes also has the potential to compromise the patient’s rehabilitation process and potential.

In the ICU, or any other professional medical environment, patients are taken care of by highly trained medical professionals who are specially trained to work in these high-stress situations. Nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professionals know what to expect under certain circumstances and know how to effectively deal with patients’ needs. Family caregivers generally do not, and this is where the main problem lies.

Impact and responses

The RECOVER Program’s study showed that patient’s illness severity, as well as functional and cognitive abilities are not linked to the caregivers’ physical health. However emotional factors of the caregiver’s situation, such as sense of control and social support, do have an impact on their overall wellbeing.

With these findings, the plan now is to take action, to develop new rehabilitation models for patients as well as education programs to proactively prepare caregivers on the rehabilitation process and how to identify and address the potential negative effects it will have on their own lives.

As Dr. Cameron emphasized, the goal is not to merely survive an illness, whether it be your own or that of a loved one, but to survive and live a life of quality and fulfillment.

Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.