Intensive care units poorly equipped to care for the dying

Oct 05, 2009

Almost half of the patients who die in intensive care units die within 24 hours, but the environment is not equipped to provide good end-of-life care. Most relatives are nevertheless happy with the care given, shows a thesis from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

An (ICU) is designed primarily to save lives rather than provide end-of-life care. When a patient dies on an ICU, this often follows a sudden illness or , and neither the patient nor relatives are prepared for death.

"The location and environment in which people die mean a lot not only for the person who is dying but also for those who are to look after them and those who must learn to live without them," says Isabell Fridh, who wrote the thesis.

Her thesis shows that Swedish ICUs are often unable to care for dying patients in separate rooms. The waiting rooms to which relatives are sent are often too few and too small. Most units do not have a care programme for end-of-life care, and many also have no procedures in place for supporting relatives after a death, which is standard practice at hospices. The results also show that almost half of the patients (in the study) died within 24 hours after admittance (to intensive care), and 40% of these did not have any relatives present at the time of death.

"This may seem to paint a bleak picture, but the truth is that most of the relatives I interviewed for my thesis thought that the care given was a positive experience despite their sense of loss," says Fridh. "Many feel that their loved one benefited from all available medical resources and that everything that could be done to save their life was indeed done."

Relatives rarely complain about the physical environment, but they do not like to be separated from the patient against their will, and greatly appreciate being able to spend that last bit of time with their loved one in a private room.

Isabell Fridh also interviewed ICU nurses, who do their utmost to care for dying patients even where the environment is not well suited to it. Nurses use the available medical technology to alleviate patients' suffering and try hard to provide privacy and give relatives a lasting sense that their loved one's death was peaceful and dignified.

Source: University of Gothenburg (news : web)

Explore further: Extreme weather kills 2,000 in U.S. each year: CDC

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Heart attack not a death sentence

Jul 18, 2008

Survivors of cardiac arrest who received intensive care can expect long-term quality of life at reasonable expense to the health care system. Research published today in BioMed Central's open access journal Critical Care is the ...

PTSD endures over time in family members of ICU patients

Sep 22, 2008

Family members may experience post-traumatic stress as many as six months after a loved one's stay in the intensive care unit (ICU), according to a study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and ...

Withdrawal of life support often an imperfect compromise

Oct 07, 2008

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) doctors seeking to balance the complex needs of their patients and the patients' families may make an imperfect compromise, withdrawing life support systems over a prolonged period of time. This ...

The breathing lifeline that comes at a price

Jun 03, 2008

The ventilators on an intensive care ward of a hospital offer a vital lifeline to the sickest and most vulnerable patients, providing the oxygen that keeps them alive when they are unable to breathe for themselves.

Recommended for you

Tip-over furniture can kill kids

1 hour ago

(HealthDay)—It can happen in an instant: A small child pulls up on a television, dresser or computer monitor and gets critically injured when the furniture tips over.

Slow progress toward meaningful use stage 2

2 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Providers and hospitals are making slow progress toward achieving meaningful use stage 2, according to an article published July 10 in Medical Economics.

User comments : 0