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Published March 15, 2013, 11:30 PM

Hot Topics: Seeing CPR done on loved one, even if fails, may help coping

When family members were allowed to watch emergency personnel try but fail to resuscitate a loved one, the relatives were less likely to have post-traumatic stress symptoms, anxiety or depression much later, according to a French study.

By: Reuters Life News, INFORUM

When family members were allowed to watch emergency personnel try but fail to resuscitate a loved one, the relatives were less likely to have post-traumatic stress symptoms, anxiety or depression much later, according to a French study.

The researchers, who published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine, also found that allowing the family to witness the rescue attempts did not increase stress on the health care workers, influence whether the victim survived or result in more lawsuits.

“Family presence during CPR was associated with positive results on psychological variables and did not interfere with medical efforts,” wrote the team, led byPatricia Jabre of Avicenne Hospital in Bobigny.

CPR is unsuccessful in the vast majority of cases, and supporters of the idea of allowing family members to observe say it can help them understand that medical workers did everything they could, come to grips with the reality of death and give the family the chance to say goodbye.

“Our results show that it is very important to systematically propose to the relative (it’s not mandatory) that the relative attend CPR and offer the choice to be present or not,” said study author Frederic Adnet, also of Avicenne Hospital, told Reuters Health in an email.

The French group’s conclusions were based on 570 cases treated by 15 emergency medical teams equipped with mobile intensive care units and staffed with at least one doctor and nurse. In each case when watching was permitted, family members were directly asked if they wanted to observe. If not, they were taken to another part of the home.

When people chose to watch, a member of the team briefed the relatives through the process. Ninety days later, relatives were interviewed using a 15-item questionnaire.

Among the 266 cases in which family were asked if they wanted to watch, somebody chose to do so 79 percent of the time. In the 304 cases where no special effort was made to ask and the usual practice was in place, 43 percent of the time somebody chose to watch.

Of the 570 people who had CPR, only 20 were still alive 28 days later, a survival rate of 4 percent. Whether family members were allowed to watch made no difference in that rate.

Among the families who did not witness the CPR, the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms was 60 percent higher than among the relatives who watched.

While 12 percent of the people who didn’t witness the CPR said they wished they had, only 3 percent of the relatives who watched said they wished they hadn’t been.

“It’s nice to finally see documentation for what many of us, as physicians, have known for a long time - that often family members will come to you afterwards and say ‘Thank you so much. You did as much as you could possibly do,’” said Comilla Sasson, a CPR researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.

U.S. researchers noted that most U.S. rescue units don’t have somebody designated to explain CPR to the family, and the emphasis is often on quickly stabilizing them enough to get to a hospital, which may hamper interaction with the family.

The French researchers added that the study should be done in a hospital setting to see if the results are the same.

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