Greek researchers at Athens University Medical School and Aghia Sophia Children’s Hospital uncovered psychosocial vulnerability in children and adolescents with cystic fibrosis. A study of 36 cystic fibrosis patients, aged 8-18 years, and 31 healthy, age-matched control participants revealed that cystic fibrosis patients have a greater difficulty establishing friendships and making social adjustments.
It is known that individuals with chronic medical disorders have greater risks for developing psychiatric disorders and experiencing psychological distress. Children are especially vulnerable while going through their adolescent period. Previous studies show children with chronic medical conditions are two to four times as likely to develop psychiatric problems as are their healthy peers.
According to the journal article published in Biopsychosocial Medicine, this study was designed “To assess psychosocial functioning and distress of children and adolescents with cystic fibrosis compared to healthy controls.” Both groups were evaluated using the Culture-free Self-esteem Inventory, the Social Adjustment Scale-Self-Report, the Family Assessment Device, the Youth Self Report, and the Child Behavior Checklist. Variables of interest were self-esteem, social adjustment, and family functioning.
Regarding self-esteem, family functioning, and emotional/behavioral problems, there were no differences between cystic fibrosis patients and healthy participants. When considering friendship and overall adjustment, there was a significant difference between groups. These two parameters were measured using the Social Adjustment Scale-Self-Report, which is assigned a score on a 5-point scale, with a higher score indicating worse functioning. Cystic fibrosis patients had a score of 2.4 and 2.0 for friends and overall adjustment, respectively, whereas healthy controls had a score of 2.1 and 1.8, respectively.
Parents of both groups also reported on some measures. The Family Assessment Device showed significantly higher scores for parents of 12-18 year-old individuals (compared to 8-11 year-old individuals) in the categories of problem solving, communication, roles, emotional responsiveness, emotional involvement, and general functioning.
Cystic fibrosis patients showed adequate lung function, indicating results were not skewed by health-related quality of life.
These findings have a widespread impact, as the frequency of cystic fibrosis in Greece is 1 in 3,500 live births. By evaluating these youths, the researchers discovered a potential need for emphasizing the assessment and treatment of the psychosocial distress of cystic fibrosis patients. It is likely these results and recommendations apply to cystic fibrosis youths around the globe, not just to those living in Greece.