Grief Symptoms in Relatives Who Experienced Organ Donation Requests in the ICU

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Abstract

Rationale:

Studies show that the quality of end-of-life communication and care have a significant impact on the living long after the death of a relative and have been implicated in the burden of psychological symptoms after the ICU experience. In the case of organ donation, the patient's relatives are centrally involved in the decision-making process; yet, few studies have examined the impact of the quality of communication on the burden of psychological symptoms after death.

Objectives:

To assess the experience of the organ donation process and grief symptoms in relatives of brain-dead patients who discussed organ donation in the ICU.

Methods:

We conducted a multicenter longitudinal study in 28 ICUs in France. Participants were the relatives of brain-dead patients who were approached to discuss organ donation. Relatives were followed-up by phone at three time points: at 1 month, to complete a questionnaire describing their experience of the organ donation process; at 3 months, to complete the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and the Impact of Event Scale-Revised; and at 9 months, to complete the Impact of Event Scale-Revised and the Inventory of Complicated Grief.

Measurements and Main Results:

In total, 202 relatives of 202 patients were included, of whom 158 consented to and 44 refused organ donation. Interviews were conducted at 1, 3, and 9 months with 78%, 68%, and 58% of relatives, respectively. The overall experience of the organ donation process was significantly more burdensome for relatives of nondonors. They were more dissatisfied with communication (27% vs. 10%; P = 0.021), more often shocked by the request (65% vs. 19%; P < 0.0001), and more often found the decision difficult (53% vs. 27%; P = 0.017). However, there were no significant differences in grief symptoms measured at 3 and 9 months between the two groups. Understanding of brain death was associated with grief symptoms; our results show a higher prevalence of complicated grief symptoms among relatives who did not understand the brain death process than among those who did (75% vs. 46.1%; P = 0.026).

Conclusions:

Experience of the organ donation process varied between relatives of donor versus nondonor patients, with relatives of nondonors experiencing lower-quality communication, but the decision was not associated with subsequent grief symptoms. Importantly, understanding of brain death is a key element of the organ donation process for relatives.

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