Sedatives Induce False Traumatic Memories of Hospital
> 5/2/2008 11:57:58 AM

Visits to the intensive care unit (ICU) are harrowing, spurring many empathetic doctors to keep children sedated in order to spare them the experience. While the intention is compassionate, the result may actually be a greater risk of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) according to a study by Dr. Gillian Colville in the latest issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Dr. Colville interviewed 102 children two months after their stay in an ICU. Shockingly, 32 of them reported delusional memories, many of which were laced with ghastly hallucinations. These children falsely remembered horrors worse than needles and stern nurses, such as scorpions crawling over their skin, and they were more likely to develop PTSD even when researchers controlled for severity of injury.

Sixty-four of the children were able to remember true details of their stay, but these memories, while frequently disturbing, did not raise the risk of PTSD. It seems then that it is on delusional memories that concerned parents and doctors should focus. Dr. Colville determined that the most significant correlate of delusional memories was the duration of time spent on sedatives or painkillers. The rate of delusions jumped most precipitously after two full days on these palliative medications.

Maturing minds are quite vulnerable to traumatic experiences, but the results of this study indicate that they may be even more at risk for PTSD from medication-induced, nightmarish delusions. Adults are also more likely to hallucinate when sedated, but they have the wisdom to later discount improbable memories. Children should either be given less of this medication or screened for delusional memories so that they are not secretly burdened by imagined terrors.

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