Original Research

Changes in biopsychosocial outcomes for a mixed cohort of ICU survivors

Johannes van Aartsen, Helena van Aswegen
South African Journal of Physiotherapy | Vol 74, No 1 | a427 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajp.v74i1.427 | © 2018 Johannes van Aartsen, Helena van Aswegen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 September 2017 | Published: 10 April 2018

About the author(s)

Johannes van Aartsen, Department of Physiotherapy, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Helena van Aswegen, Department of Physiotherapy, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

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Background: Prolonged inflammation and infection associated with being critically ill and the ensuing physical inactivity has proven negative effects on the recovery of physical function, psychological health and reintegration into society for intensive care unit (ICU) survivors. Limited evidence is available on changes in biopsychosocial outcomes for South Africans recovering from an episode of critical illness.
Objectives: To determine changes in biopsychosocial outcomes for a mixed cohort of ICU survivors in hospital and at 1 month and 6 months after discharge.
Method: A prospective, observational, longitudinal study was conducted. Severity of illness, mechanical ventilation (MV) duration and ICU and hospital length of stay (LOS) were recorded. Physical function in ICU test-scored (PFIT-s) was performed at discharge from ICU and hospital. At 1 month and 6 months, peripheral muscle strength, exercise endurance, health-related quality of life (HRQOL), depression status and return to work were assessed. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used.
Results: Participants (n = 24) had a median age of 51.5 years, majority were male (n = 19; 79%) and most were employed before admission (n = 20; 83%). At 6 months, 11 participants (n = 11) were part of the final sample. Median PFIT-s changed significantly (0.3 points; p = 0.02) between ICU and hospital discharge. Peripheral muscle strength improved significantly for upper and lower limbs over 6 months (p = 0.00–0.03) but change in median 6-minute walk test distance (65m) was not significantly different. Significant improvements occurred in mean Medical Outcomes Short Form-36 (SF-36) physical health component scores (8.8 ± 7.6; p = 0.00). Mean SF-36 mental health component scores had a strong negative relationship with MV duration (r = −0.7; p = 0.01), LOS (r = −0.56; p = 0.04) and Patient Health Questionnaire 9 scores (r = −0.72; p = 0.01). Six participants (55%) returned to employment.
Conclusion: Clinically important improvements in biopsychosocial outcomes related to physical function and social factors were observed. Limitations in mental aspects of HRQOL were present at 6 months and some reported mild depressive symptoms.
Clinical implications: Intensive care unit survivors with a history of prolonged MV duration and hospital LOS who exhibit limitations in mental HRQOL, and signs of depressive symptoms should be referred to a psychologist for evaluation.


Health Related Quality of Life; Functional Status; Critical Illness


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