Child’s trauma may affect parents’ health

The stress of having a child go through a life-threatening event may have long-term health consequences for parents, a new study suggests.

Researchers in the Netherlands found that parents of teenagers who’d been in a disastrous New Year’s Eve fire were at increased risk of developing high blood pressure over the next 4 years.

Past research has linked chronic stress to elevations in blood pressure, and it’s certainly stressful for parents to help a child recover from burn injuries, as well as from the emotional trauma of such a disaster, explained Dr. Tina Dorn of the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research.

However, a problem in trying to measure the impact of disasters on people’s health is that studies typically have no information on what survivors’ health was like before the experience.

The new study is different because the researchers had access to electronic registries with health information on parents before and after the fire. Dorn and her colleagues found that compared with parents whose children were not involved in the disaster, parents of victims were nearly 50 percent more likely to be newly diagnosed with high blood pressure in the following years.

The study, reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology, included parents of teenagers who were involved in one of the Netherlands’s worst mass burn incidents ever. About 350 adolescents were in an overcrowded pub that caught fire during a New Year’s celebration on January 1, 2001, injuring more than 200 and killing 14.

“The parents of these victims have gone through difficult times, too,” Dorn told Reuters Health.

Losing a child in such a way is one of the most devastating experiences anyone could have, she noted, and caring for a child with severe burn injuries is also painful. Even in cases where the teenager was unharmed physically, Dorn said, parents may still feel the stress of helping their child deal with the trauma.

The findings, according to Dorn, show that disasters can affect not only the direct victim, but the whole family as well. This means that the whole family might need help in dealing with the stressful aftermath.

Besides seeking professional help, Dorn noted, families can try turning to friends, relatives or church groups for support.

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, February 15, 2007.

Provided by ArmMed Media