Parent/guardian knowledge regarding implanted shunt type, setting, and symptoms of malfunction/infection

Laurie L. Ackerman, Daniel H. Fulkerson, Andrew Jea, Jodi Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


OBJECTIVE Patients with shunts often interact with providers distant from their primary hospital, making it important that the parent(s)/guardian(s) is well versed in the type of shunt implanted and symptoms of malfunction/infection. This is particularly important with magnetic-sensitive programmable valves, as the use of MRI becomes more prevalent. METHODS Over a 6-month period, primary caregivers of 148 consecutive patients who received shunts were prospectively administered questionnaires at clinic visits. Caregivers were asked to do the following: 1) identify shunt valve name, type, and setting if applicable; 2) list symptoms of shunt malfunction/infection; and 3) indicate whether they had access to references regarding shunt type/setting, booklets from the Hydrocephalus Association, and quick reference cards with symptoms of shunt malfunction/infection. One cohort of caregivers (n = 75) was asked to carry informational cards with shunt valve/setting information (group I); this cohort was compared with another subgroup of caregivers (n = 73) not carrying cards (group II). RESULTS The mean (± SD) age of patients at implantation/revision was 3.71 ± 4.91 years, and the age at follow-up was 6.12 ± 5.4 years. The average time from surgery to administration of the questionnaire was 2.38 ± 3.22 years. There were 86 new shunt insertions and 62 revisions. One hundred twenty-eight caregivers (87%) could identify the type of valve (programmable vs nonprogrammable). On the other hand, only 72 caregivers (49%) could identify the valve name. Fifty-four of 73 (74%) caregivers of patients who had shunts with programmable valves could correctly identify the valve setting. One hundred caregivers (68%) had a copy of the Hydrocephalus Association booklet, and 103 (70%) had quick reference cards. Eighty caregivers (54%) had references on shunt type/setting. Most caregivers (127 [86%]) could name ≥ 3 signs/symptoms of shunt malfunction, with vomiting (61%), headache (49%), and sleeps more/lethargic (35%) most frequently reported. Caregivers of patients in group I were more likely to have cards with symptoms of shunt infection or malfunction (p = 0.015); have information cards regarding shunt type/setting (p < 0.001); and correctly identify valve type (p = 0.001), name (p < 0.001), and setting if programmable (p = 0.0016). There were no differences in ability to list symptoms of shunt malfunction or infection (p = 0.8812) or in access to Hydrocephalus Association booklets (p = 0.1288). There were no significant demographic differences between the groups, except that group I patients had a shorter time from surgery to last follow-up (1.66 vs 3.17 years; p = 0.0001). CONCLUSIONS Education regarding the care of patients with shunts by providing written cards with shunt type/setting and access to reference materials seems to be effective. Developing plans for guided instruction with assessment in the clinic setting of a caregiver’s knowledge is important for patient safety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-366
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018


  • Cerebrospinal fluid shunts
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Patient teaching
  • Shunt infection
  • Shunt malfunction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Clinical Neurology

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