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Apr 15, 2013

Witnessing CPR Helps Reassure Family Members, Provides Closure

Researchers find that family members who observed CPR on their loved ones are significantly less likely to have post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. 

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, commonly referred to as CPR, is a life-saving procedure performed when someone’s heart suddenly stops beating. Through chest compressions and rescue breathing, CPR can help restore circulation to the brain in emergency situations. But when it’s a loved one in need of CPR, many wonder whether it’s better to be present or avoid witnessing the procedures. Does watching a loved one receive CPR cause lasting trauma for family members? Or could it help them process the situation better by witnessing it firsthand?

According to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, watching CPR being performed on a loved one may actually be beneficial for family members. This study involved nearly 600 people whose family members suffered cardiac arrest and were treated with CPR by emergency medical personnel at home. Researchers found that family members who observed CPR on their loved ones were significantly less likely to have post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression than family members who did not.

It may seem counterintuitive that witnessing something so painful could be beneficial for family members, but many experts aren’t surprised by these findings. Family presence during CPR has been a hot topic in the health field since the 1980s, but until now, no large studies have been conducted to better understand the issue. Many times, especially when patients don’t survive, watching CPR can help reassure family members that everything was done to help save their loved ones. It can also provide closure and help them understand the reality of the situation. When family members are not present during CPR, they may feel less confident about the care their loved one received, resulting in more anxiety down the road.

We still have plenty to learn about the impact of family presence during CPR, but it’s clear that the role of families—not just patients—is becoming increasingly important in healthcare. Everyone has a different set of needs, values and beliefs and it’s nice to know that patients and their families are being given more of a say in the care they receive.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How is CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) performed?
  • CPR consists of chest compressions and/or rescue breathing to help restore circulation when the heart suddenly stops beating. For more information about CPR, check out our CPR basics.
  • When is CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) performed?

  • CPR is most often performed when someone has drowned or suffers sudden cardiac arrest, and the heart has stopped beating. CPR is performed to restore circulation and help get oxygen-rich blood to the brain.

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