Studies of family caregivers of the critically ill have mainly focused on the psychological impact of the patients' stay in the intensive care unit and related stress. Despite known associations between stress and physical health, limited attention has been paid to the need to promote and maintain physical health in these caregivers.


To explore how family caregivers' health risk behaviors are associated with patients' preexisting care needs and the caregivers' depressive symptoms and burden.


During the intensive-care-unit stay of critically ill patients (who required mechanical ventilation for ≥4 days), 50 family caregivers were surveyed to determine the caregivers' depressive symptoms, burden, and health risk behaviors. Data were also collected on patients' care needs before admission to the intensive care unit.


One or more health risk behaviors were reported by 94% of family caregivers. More than 90% of caregivers reported depressive symptoms above the score indicating risk for clinical depression. A high level of burden was reported by 36% of caregivers. More health risk behaviors were associated with higher scores of depressive symptoms and burden (P < .001 for both). Caregivers' responses did not differ according to patients' preexisting care needs.


Health risk behaviors of family caregivers are associated with greater perceptions of burden and/or depressive symptoms but not with patients' care needs before admission to the intensive care unit.

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