Risk factors for complicated grief among family members bereaved in intensive care unit settings: A systematic review

Emma A. M. Sanderson, Sally Humphreys, Fiona Walker, Daniel Harris, Emma Carduff, Joanne McPeake, Kirsty Boyd, Natalie Pattison, Nazir I. Lone, Manuel Fernández-Alcántara (Editor)

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Background: Families of intensive care unit (ICU) decedents are at increased risk of experiencing complicated grief. However, factors associated with complicated grief in ICU and bereavement needs assessment are not available routinely. We aimed to conduct a systematic review identifying risk factors associated with complicated grief among family members of ICU decedents. Materials and methods: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, the Cochrane Library and Web of Science were searched to identify relevant articles. Observational studies and randomised and non-randomised controlled trials were included. Studies were screened and quality appraised in duplicate. Risk of bias was assessed using Newcastle-Ottawa Scale. A narrative synthesis was undertaken. Results: Seven studies conducted across three continents were eligible. Four studies were of high quality. 61 risk factors were investigated across the studies. Factors associated with a decreased risk of complicated grief included age, patient declining treatment and involvement in decision-making. Factors associated with increased risk included living alone, partner, dying while intubated, problematic communication, and not having the opportunity to say goodbye. Conclusion: This systematic review has identified risk factors which may help identify family members at increased risk of complicated grief. Many of the studies has small sample sizes increasing the risk of erroneously reporting no effect due to type II error. Some factors are specific to the ICU setting and are potentially modifiable. Bereavement services tailored to the needs of bereaved family members in ICU settings are required. (PROSPERO registration ID 209503)
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0264971
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Early online date10 Mar 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Mar 2022


  • Research Article
  • Medicine and health sciences
  • Research and analysis methods
  • Biology and life sciences
  • Social sciences


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