An ICU Experience may Leave Your Child Traumatized

by Tanya Thomas on Sep 5 2008 9:07 AM

Hospital is never a good experience for little children. Now, researchers at the McGill University Health Centre have found sometimes, a child’s stint in the intensive care unit of a hospital may leave the little one traumatized even months after the experience ends.

To measure psychological distress in children following hospital discharge, Dr. Janet Rennick from the Research Institute of The Montreal Children’s Hospital of the university and her colleagues have developed the Children’s Critical Illness Impact Scale. 

The researchers said that this is the first self-report scale ever created to measure the psychological impact of intensive care unit hospitalisation on children. 

This 23-item questionnaire provides a tool that will allow health care professionals to pick up on and recognize those children who need psychological support as a result of their hospital stay. 

It is based on the results of 64 interviews conducted with children who had been hospitalised in an intensive care unit, their parents, and health care professionals. The study was conducted across three Canadian paediatric hospitals. 

"We know some children suffer post traumatic stress symptoms after having spent time in the intensive care unit. Parents and children have described delusional memories of their hospital experience, which continue to bother the child after they go home. In addition, parents have described behavioural changes and ongoing fears in their children, and children have told us they don’t feel the same as they did before they were critically ill," Rennick said. 

The research team designed the questionnaire specifically for kids aged six to 12 years. It was a challenging exercise because the researchers had to find a way of interviewing children that would encourage and allow them to share their feelings and fears. 

The interviews were done in two ways, focus groups and individual interviews. For younger children, researchers used a storyboard with felt pieces and hospital play sets.

The children were encouraged to use the felt pieces to tell a four part story about: being in the hospital, going home, going back to school, and returning to the hospital for a check up. 

"This interviewing method worked well for younger children who created detailed stories of their experiences but we discovered that the storyboard method was less effective for children 10 years and older," Rennick said. 

According to Rennick, this child friendly, self-report questionnaire would allow health care workers to more effectively determine if children are bouncing back after an intensive care unit stay. 

"With this new scale we will be better able to pick-up and help the child whose life simply hasn’t returned to normal," Rennick said. 

The study was published in the Journal of Paediatric Critical Care Medicine.