WEDNESDAY, May 12, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Feelings of sorry it is expected after the loss of a loved one, but having these feelings when your loved one has a terminal illness is also real and can fluctuate over time, experts say.
“There is a lot of research on anticipated grief, which involves concern for the future. But pre-loss pain at the moment is pretty much ignored,” said study author Jonathan Singer, an intern in clinical psychiatry and behavioral health. at Ohio State University.
“With medical advances, people will live longer with life-limiting illnesses, so there will be a growing problem with pain before the person dies,” he said in a university press release. “Symptoms of pre-loss grief can predict long-term negative outcomes after the death of a loved one, so this is a good intervention goal that we should find out now.”
Participants completed questionnaires assessing their grief symptoms, depression, post-traumatic stress and care load. These included 28 people whose loved ones had dementia who responded to the initial and follow-up questionnaire and 33 of the people who had cancer in their loved ones. 138 people responded to the initial survey.
The first questionnaire revealed substantial pre-loss pain among participants. One month later, pre-loss grief symptoms decreased in 69% of participants, although women and those with a high care burden were more likely to feel more intense pain.
Family members of patients with dementia were more likely than family members of cancer patients to suffer severe pre-loss pain, although some people who predicted the loss of a loved one from cancer also had levels of unexpectedly high pain.
The symptoms were similar, no matter how much individuals knew that their loved one had a life-limiting illness.
“The people in this study had pre-loss pain at a very high rate after many years. It was shocking, because you might think over time it would be easier. But with Alzheimer’s disease, it can get harder and with cancer there can be a similar trajectory, starting with hope at first but feeling worse over time, ”Singer said.
“What about those family members who are still struggling? Is it the caregiver’s burden, is it that they have lost their identity, is it that they no longer engage in enjoyable activities? That’s what we want to achieve next,” he said.
Pre-loss grief is not a clinical diagnosis, but a prolonged grief disorder in people mourning the death of a loved one was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published this year. Symptoms include worry about thoughts or memories of the lost family member combined with symptoms such as intense emotional pain, a sense of disbelief, and difficulty getting on with life.
The researchers also found that 10.5% of relatives of dementia patients and 2% of relatives of cancer patients met the criteria for the diagnosis of prolonged grief disorder.
Singer led a recent study designed to help provide a better understanding of how preparing for the death of a family member can prevent mental health problems for their survivors. He is now involved in a study of a long-term trajectory of pain prior to loss.
The study was recently published in Journal of Health Psychology.
The American Psychological Association provides more information on grief and loss.
SOURCE: Ohio State University, press release, May 10, 2021