Depressive symptoms, social network, and bereavement service utilization and preferences among spouses of former hospice patients

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Background: Bereavement services are an important part of comprehensive end-of-life care with potential to ameliorate physical, psychological, and spiritual distress. We studied bereaved spouses of hospice patients to examine bereavement service utilization, barriers, and preferences regarding content, structure, and delivery of potential bereavement services. We also examined the impact of depressive symptoms and social network. Methods: Retrospective cohort study of bereaved spousal caregivers of patients of three hospices in Tampa Bay, Florida. Descriptive and univariate analyses assessed demographics, depressive symptoms, social network, service utilization, barriers, and preferences. Results: Nearly half utilized at least one type of specialized professional bereavement intervention to aid in coping with their loss. The most frequently used services were provided by clergy members and physicians. Primarily attitudinal in nature, barriers included the finding that more than one third felt available services did not fit their needs or interests. Individual and spiritually-based services were highly endorsed, as were services designed to provide tools to reframe the loss and cope with accompanying changes and emotions. Lower social network was associated with higher content preferences for services consistent primarily with restoration-oriented coping. Conclusion: Clinicians and service providers may facilitate coping by routinely screening for depressive symptoms and social network and tailoring interventions to those identified as experiencing elevated distress or lacking social resources. Attitudinal barriers and preferences suggest that even in the service-rich environment of hospice some modification of bereavement services might reach more bereaved spouses. Future studies might address whether preferences lead individuals to services of the greatest benefit. © 2009 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

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Journal of Palliative Medicine

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