(BETHESDA, Md.) -- When crisis strikes and a person is no longer able to make their own medical decisions, spouses, adult children, siblings and others find themselves in the role of surrogate decision-makers, trying to make the best, yet often difficult, decisions for their loved ones. Studies have shown that the critical role of the surrogate decision-maker can be incredibly stressful.
For the first time, a study has systematically examined on a large scale the psychological after-effects of decision making on surrogates. Researchers at the National Institute of Health reviewed 40 published articles providing data on 2,832 surrogates who were surveyed several months to years after making treatment decisions, including end-of-life decisions.
At least one-third of the surrogates experienced negative effects including stress and anxiety, and these effects were often substantial and lasted for months or years. But surrogates that knew the patient’s wishes – if, for example, the patient had a living will – suffered less stress than surrogates acting without advance directive.
The findings were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
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