Emotional distress, coping and adjustment in family members of neuroscience intensive care unit patients

J Psychosom Res. 2009 Jun;66(6):503-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.12.005. Epub 2009 Mar 4.


Objective: We evaluated emotional distress, coping strategy use, caregiver adjustment, and the relationship among these variables in family members (FMs) of patients hospitalized in a neuroscience intensive care unit (NSICU).

Methods: Fifty-one primary relatives of NSICU patients were administered the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) and an abbreviated version of the COPE within 2 days of admission to the NSICU, just prior to patient discharge from the unit, and approximately 30 days after patient discharge (follow-up). FMs' adjustment to the role of caregiver was also evaluated at follow-up with the Caregiver Appraisal Scale (CAS).

Results: BSI emotional distress levels were higher than those of the nonpatient normative sample at patient admission, but, except for anxiety, were within a standard deviation of the mean of the said group; with the exception of anxiety they declined to below nonpatient normative levels at follow-up. Females' distress levels were higher than those of males'. FMs' use of both problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies increased from admission through follow-up. Emotional distress was unrelated to problem-focused coping but was associated with emotion-focused coping at admission and discharge, with use of denial as a coping strategy primarily accounting for this relationship. Extent of use of both problem-focused and emotion-focused coping at admission was associated with better caregiver adjustment at follow-up, but over time only increases in problem-focused coping were associated with better subsequent caregiver adjustment.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that interventions fostering increased use of problem-focused coping and sense of control will be effective in lowering FM distress level and enhancing subsequent adjustment in the role of caregiver.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Caregivers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Depression* / diagnosis
  • Depression* / epidemiology
  • Depression* / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurosciences / methods*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult