Stress Is Tough on Medical 'Surrogates' When a Loved One Is Ill

From Drugs.com - January 5, 2018

Stress Is Tough on Medical 'Surrogates' When a Loved One Is Ill

FRIDAY, Jan. 5, 2018 -- When seriously ill hospital patients ca not express their wishes about their medical care, decision-making often falls to emotionally drained family members.

Anxiety and depression are common for these surrogate decision members, say researchers from the Indiana University Center for Aging Research and the Regenstrief Institute.

But they concluded that support from hospital staff can ease their distress and help them make better treatment decisions.

"As the population ages and more and more family members are thrust into the role of surrogate decision makers, appropriately supporting these family members will become a public health imperative," said study corresponding author Dr. Alexia Torke. She's associate director of the Center for Aging Research.

The researchers examined the experiences of 364 older patients and their medical surrogate at a total of three hospitals. Patients were an average age of 82. The surrogates' average age was 58. Two-thirds of the surrogates were adult children. Seventeen percent of the surrogates were the patient's spouse.

Up to 15 percent of the medical surrogates suffered from high levels of anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress, the researchers found.

These effects were observed six to eight weeks after a patient was hospitalized. In some cases, this stress resolved once the initial serious phase of treatment ended. But for more than 1 in 10 surrogates, distress levels remained high.

However, when family members believed doctors, nurses and other hospital staff were listening to their questions and concerns, they felt they were able to make effective medical decisions.

Feeling heard, the study showed, was more important to the medical surrogates than receiving highly detailed information about their loved ones' treatment plan.


Continue reading at Drugs.com »