In a study in the June issue of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, the McGill researchers say they found children who were younger, more severely ill, and subjected to more invasive medical procedures experienced more ongoing post-traumatic stress responses up to six months after being discharged from the hospital.
What surprised the researchers was the finding that children who were admitted to pediatric intensive care units weren't any more likely to be traumatized or suffer more lingering psychological problems than children in regular medical-surgical hospital units.
The researchers followed 60 children, ages 6-to-17, admitted to the pediatric intensive care units of two university-affiliated children's hospitals in Canada. They also followed the same number of children admitted to regular units in the hospitals.
At the six-week mark, younger children who received a higher number of invasive procedures were more likely to have medical fears, intrusive thoughts and avoidance behaviors. Younger children and those with more serious illnesses tended to have a lower sense of control over their health.
Six months after the kids were discharged, the researchers noted a decline in persistent hospital-related psychological problems. But they found younger children were still more likely to have less of a sense of control over their health. They were also more prone to medical fears, as were the children subjected to a higher number of invasive procedures.
The findings challenge the idea that children in intensive care are unique, the researchers say. They say a child's response to hospitalization is affected more by the perception of the illness experience. For that reason, it's important to provide uniform psychological support to all children in a hospital, the researchers say.
This home page from the Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital demonstrates steps that some medical institutions have taken to make a child's stay more comfortable and less threatening.