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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Identifying bereaved subjects at risk of complicated grief: Predictive value of questionnaire items in a cohort study

Mai-Britt Guldin1*, Maja O'Connor2, Ineta Sokolowski1, Anders B Jensen3 and Peter Vedsted1

Author Affiliations

1 Research Unit for General Practice, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

2 Psychooncological Research Unit, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

3 Department of Oncology, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark

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BMC Palliative Care 2011, 10:9  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-10-9

Published: 16 May 2011

Abstract

Background

Bereavement is a condition which most people experience several times during their lives. A small but noteworthy proportion of bereaved individuals experience a syndrome of prolonged psychological distress in relation to bereavement. The aim of the study was to develop a clinical tool to identify bereaved individuals who had a prognosis of complicated grief and to propose a model for a screening tool to identify those at risk of complicated grief applicable among bereaved patients in general practice and palliative care.

Methods

We examined the responses of 276 newly bereaved individuals to a variety of standardised and ad hoc questionnaire items eight weeks post loss. Inventory of Complicated Grief (ICG-R) was used as a gold standard of distress at six months after bereavement. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves analysis was performed for all scales and items regarding ICG-R score. Sensitivity, specificity and area under curve (AUC) were calculated for scales and items with the most promising ROC curve analyses.

Results

Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI) was the scale with the highest AUC (0.83) and adding a single item question ('Even while my relative was dying, I felt a sense of purpose in my life') gave a sensitivity of 80% and specificity of 75%. The positive/negative predictive values for this combination of questions were 70% and 85%, respectively. With this screening tool bereaved people could be categorized into three groups where group 1 had 7%, group 2 had 23% and group 3 had 64% propensity of suffering from complicated grief six months post loss.

Conclusions

This study shows that the BDI in combination with a single item question eight weeks post loss may be used for clinical screening for risk of developing complicated grief after six months. The feasibility and clinical implications of the screening tool has to be tested in a clinical setting.