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Effect of a condolence letter on grief symptoms among relatives of patients who died in the ICU: a randomized clinical trial

Nancy Kentish-Barnes| Sylvie Chevret| Benoît Champigneulle| Marina Thirion| Virginie Souppart| Marion Gilbert| Olivier Lesieur| Anne Renault| Maïté Garrouste-Orgeas| Laurent Argaud| Marion Venot| Alexandre Demoule| Olivier Guisset| Isabelle Vinatier| Gilles Troché| Julien Massot| Samir Jaber| Caroline Bornstain| Véronique Gaday| René Robert| Jean-Philippe Rigaud| Raphaël Cinotti| Mélanie Adda| Fra
Seven-Day Profile Publication
Volume 43, Issue 4 / April , 2017

Pages 473 - 484

Abstract

Purpose

Family members of patients who die in the intensive care unit (ICU) may experience symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and/or prolonged grief. We evaluated whether grief symptoms were alleviated if the physician and the nurse in charge at the time of death sent the closest relative a handwritten condolence letter.

Methods

Multicenter randomized trial conducted among 242 relatives of patients who died at 22 ICUs in France between December 2014 and October 2015. Relatives were randomly assigned to receiving (n = 123) or not receiving (n = 119) a condolence letter. The primary endpoint was the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Score (HADS) at 1 month. Secondary endpoints included HADS, complicated grief (ICG), and PTSD-related symptoms (IES-R) at 6 months. Observers were blinded to group allocation.

Results

At 1 month, 208 (85.9%) relatives completed the HADS; median score was 16 [IQR, 10–22] with and 14 [8–21.5] without the letter (P = 0.36). Although scores were higher in the intervention group, there were no significant differences regarding the HADS-depression subscale (8 [4–12] vs. 6 [2–12], mean difference 1.1 [−0.5 to 2.6]; P = 0.09) and prevalence of depression symptoms (56.0 vs. 42.4%, RR 0.76 [0.57–1.00]; P = 0.05). At 6 months, 190 (78.5%) relatives were interviewed. The intervention significantly increased the HADS (13 [7–19] vs. 10 [4–17.5], P = 0.04), HADS-depression subscale (6 [2–10] vs. 3 [1–9], P = 0.02), prevalence of depression symptoms (36.6 vs. 24.7%, P = 0.05) and PTSD-related symptoms (52.4 vs. 37.1%, P = 0.03).

Conclusions

In relatives of patients who died in the ICU, a condolence letter failed to alleviate grief symptoms and may have worsened depression and PTSD-related symptoms.

Trial registration Clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT02325297.

Keywords

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