Supporting family members bolsters patient care: study

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Alexia Torke: Understand the experience of family members.
Alexia Torke: Understand the experience of family members.

Residents who can't express their wishes about medical care can leave family members emotionally drained.

But investigators from the Indiana University Center for Aging Research and the Regenstrief Institute say support from staff can comfort them and lead to better treatment decisions.

The researchers examined the experiences of 364 older patients, average age 82, and their medical surrogates at three hospitals. The work should help nursing home staff, said corresponding author Alexia Torke, M.D., associate director of theCenter for Aging Research.

“It is important to under- stand the experience of their family members,” she told McKnight's. “Our research shows that some of them will have anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms, which may be associated with their experiences when their family member was in the hospital. These family members especially need emotional support as they cope with the illness of the patient and their own role as a family member.”

About 66% of the surrogates Torke studied were adult children, while 17% were spouses. Up to 15% of them had high levels of anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress six to eight weeks after a patient was hospitalized.

In some cases, this stress subsided after initial treatment ended. But for more than one in 10 surrogates, the stress was persistent.