Longitudinal changes and predictors of prolonged grief for bereaved family caregivers over the first 2 years after the terminally ill cancer patient's death

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Abstract

Background:

A significant minority of bereaved caregivers experience prolonged grief. However, few longitudinal studies have examined prolonged grief, especially in an Asian context.

Aim:

We explored longitudinal changes and factors predicting prolonged grief in bereaved caregivers of terminally ill Taiwanese cancer patients.

Design:

Observational, prospective, and longitudinal. Prolonged grief symptoms were measured with the PG-13 at 6, 13, 18, and 24 months postloss.

Setting/participants:

A convenience sample of 493 caregivers (83.3% participation rate) of terminally ill cancer patients was recruited from a medical center in Taiwan.

Results:

The prevalence of prolonged grief decreased significantly over time from the patient's death (7.73%, 1.80%, 2.49%, and 1.85% at 6, 13, 18, and 24 months postloss, respectively, p < 0.05 at all times in reference to 6 months postloss). Caregivers' likelihood of prolonged grief was significantly higher if they had severe preloss depressive symptoms, negatively perceived their relative's dying situation, and were poorly prepared for the patient's death. However, the likelihood of prolonged grief decreased significantly with greater perceived concurrent social support and subjective caregiving burden right before the patient's death.

Conclusion:

Prolonged grief in bereavement diminished over time and was predicted by modifiable factors before, during, and after bereavement. To facilitate bereavement adjustment and avoid prolonged grief, healthcare professionals should develop and provide at-risk caregivers with effective interventions starting when patients are still alive to improve their dying experience, to facilitate preparedness for the patient's forthcoming death, to alleviate caregivers' preloss depressive symptoms, and to enhance their perceived postloss social support.

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