The Effect of a Story-Telling Attention-Refocusing Intervention on Parental Stress in Parents with Infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

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Wong, Anisia
Stress , Intervention , Parent , Neonatal intensive care unit , Parental stress , Infant , Premature
Background/Rationale: Newborn admission to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is a stressful situation for parents. Prevalence of some acute stress symptoms is nearly universal after NICU admission, with physical separation due to infection control or minimal handling measures to be a major contributor to parental stress. A contact-free intervention to lower parental stress in the NICU could improve health outcomes for parents and in turn lead to improved developmental outcomes for infants. Objective: The objective of this study is to assess the effect of a Story-Telling Attention-Refocusing (STAR) intervention on parental stress in parents with infants in the NICU. Methods: A randomized trial was conducted in a level II/III NICU at Kingston Health Sciences Centre. Parents were randomized to either the intervention or standard care control group. The intervention involved parents using story prompts to share stories related to themselves or their families and friends with their infants over a ten-minute period, three times over a seven-day period. The intervention started at ten days of life. Outcomes measured included parental stress via the Parental Stressor Scale (PSS:NICU) and anxiety using the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). Results: Twenty-one parents completed the study. Mean overall PSS:NICU scores lowered significantly in the intervention group than the control group (p = 0.04) post-intervention, and parents who completed the intervention felt that the intervention helped them feel less stressed in the hospital and more connected to their infants. The intervention had no effect on STAI anxiety scores. Conclusion: The findings suggest that the STAR program may help reduce parental stress in the NICU. An effective intervention to lower stress in the NICU could reduce the incidence of chronic stress-related disorders in this high-risk population, improve parent-infant interactions and infant developmental outcomes.
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