Families of COVID-19 patients in intensive care may face own health challenges

Some critical care physicians say they're concerned that long intensive care unit stays will not only have physical and mental health consequences for COVID-19 patients, but also their family members, according to a Kaiser Health News article published in The Washington Post.

In 2010, critical care clinicians coined the term post-intensive care syndrome, or PICS, to describe a disability that plagues survivors of a critical illness. After leaving the ICU, patients with this condition may experience muscle weakness, cognitive changes and anxiety, among other symptoms. 

Now, some physicians say it's possible for the family members of a critically ill COVID-19 patient to develop a similar condition called PICS-Family.

Family members may feel guilty that they cannot be with their loved one due to hospital visitor restrictions. Since family members can't see their loved one in person, they often jump to the worst-case scenario and adopt catastrophic thinking, according to Jim Jackson, a psychologist and assistant director at Vanderbilt University's ICU Recovery Center in Nashville, Tenn.

"And why wouldn’t they, because it’s already a hugely serious situation, right? It’s a five-alarm fire, and they're not able to be engaged," he told Kaiser Health News.

Judy Davidson, DNP, RN, a nurse scientist at the UC San Diego Health, said clinicians can help reduce loved ones' stress or anxiety by sharing an update about the patient's condition at least once a day. Video calls may also be helpful for family members to see their loved one and picture the hospital environment, she said.

To view the full article, click here.

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