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Health problems among family caregivers of former intensive care unit (ICU) patients: an interview study

Background: Family caregivers of former intensive care unit (ICU) patients may suffer from physical and mental problems owing to ICU hospitalisation of their loved ones. These problems can have a major impact on their daily lives. Little is known about experienced consequences of ICU hospitalisation on caregivers in general practice. Aim: To explore health problems in family caregivers of former ICU patients and the consequences in their daily lives. Design & setting: Semi- structured interviews with family caregivers of former critically ill patients treated in a Dutch ICU. Method: Purposively sampled relatives of former ICU patients were interviewed between April and May 2019. Interviews were conducted until data saturation was reached. Interviews were then thematically analysed. Results: In total, 13 family caregivers were interviewed. The interviews took place 3 months to 3 years after ICU discharge. Expressed problems were categorised into six themes: (1) physical functioning (for example, tiredness, headache, and feeling sick more often); (2) mental health (for example, anxiety, more stress and difficulty in expressing emotions); (3) existential dimension and future (for example, uncertainty about the future); (4) quality of life (for example, losing freedom in life); (5) relationship and social participation (for example, experiencing a lack of understanding); and (6) daily functioning (for example, stopping working). Conclusion: Caregivers experience several health problems, even years after their relative's ICU episode. Healthcare providers should be focused not only on former ICU patients' health, but also on their caregivers', and need to signal and identify caregivers' health problems earlier in order to give them the appropriate care and support they need.

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Royal college of general practitioners
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