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Comparison of mothers and grandmothers physical and mental health and functioning within 6 months after child NICU/PICU death

Journal title
Italian journal of pediatrics
Publication year
Youngblut, J. M.; Brooten, D.

BACKGROUND: Losing a child is devastating for parents and grandparents. Family and friends generally focus on comforting and supporting the bereaved parents, unintentionally ignoring the bereaved grandparents. Grandmothers and grandfathers often struggle with wanting to help their adult children (deceased child’s parents) without usurping the parents’ responsibilities and decisions regarding the deceased child. Research on mothers’ and grandmothers’ health at about the same time after the same child’s death in the neonatal or pediatric intensive care unit is lacking. The aim of this study was to compare mothers and grandmothers on physical health, mental health, and functioning in the first 1-6 months after the same child’s death in a neonatal or pediatric intensive care unit. METHODS: This cross-sectional secondary analysis compared 32 mothers with 32 grandmothers of the same 32 deceased children (newborn-6 years). Grandmothers were recruited through these 32 mothers. Most grandmothers and mothers were Hispanic (25%, 34%) or Black (44%, 41%), respectively. Mothers and grandmothers separately completed questions about their Physical Health, Mental Health [depression (Beck Depression Inventory), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD, Impact of Events-R), grief (Hogan Grief Reaction Checklist)], and Functioning (social support [MSPSS] and Employment) since the child’s/grandchild’s death. Paired t-tests and Chi Square tests were used to compare grandmothers with mothers of the same deceased infant/child on their private and separate responses to study measures. RESULTS: Mothers had significantly more acute illnesses than grandmothers. More mothers (63%) than grandmothers (37%) were categorized as clinically depressed. More mothers (69%) than grandmothers (44%) had clinical PTSD. Mothers reported significantly higher levels of despair and detachment than grandmothers. Only 4 mothers and 2 grandmothers were in therapy at the time of interview. Grandmothers and mothers rated their ability to concentrate on their work and their level of social support similarly. CONCLUSIONS: Mothers had more acute illnesses, more severe depression, and a higher level of grief than grandmothers. However, few received therapy despite their high levels of depressive and PTSD symptoms.

Research abstracts