Fatigue in Family Caregivers of Adult Intensive Care Unit Survivors

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2014 Sep;48(3):353-63. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2013.09.018. Epub 2014 Jan 16.


Context: Family caregivers are a vital resource in the recovery of intensive care unit (ICU) survivors. Of concern, the stress associated with this role can negatively affect caregiver health. Fatigue, an important health indicator, has been identified as a predictor of various illnesses, greater use of health services, and early mortality. Examining the impact of fatigue on caregivers' physical health can assist in identifying critical time points and potential targets for intervention.

Objectives: To describe self-reported fatigue in caregivers of ICU survivors from patients' ICU admission to ≤ 2 weeks, two- and four-months post-ICU discharge.

Methods: Patient-caregiver pairs were enrolled from a medical ICU. Caregiver fatigue was measured using the Short-Form 36 Health Survey Vitality subscale (SF-36 Vitality). Caregiver psychobehavioral stress responses included depressive symptoms, burden, health risk behaviors, and sleep quality. Patient data included self-reported physical symptoms and disposition (home vs. institution).

Results: Forty-seven patient-caregiver pairs were initially enrolled. Clinically significant fatigue (SF-36 Vitality ≤ 45) was reported by 43%-53% of caregivers across the time points, and these caregivers reported worse scores in measures of depressive symptoms, burden, health risk behaviors and sleep quality, and patients' symptom burden. In 26 caregivers with data for all time points (55% of the total sample), SF-36 Vitality scores showed trends of improvement when the patient returned home and greater impairment when institutionalization continued.

Conclusion: In caregivers of ICU survivors, fatigue is common and potentially linked with poor psychobehavioral responses. Worsening fatigue was associated with greater symptom distress and long-term patient institutionalization.

Keywords: Intensive care unit; burden; caregiver health; depressive symptoms; family caregivers; fatigue; long-term outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Fatigue / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Discharge
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Survivors* / psychology
  • Tertiary Care Centers
  • Time Factors