The number of elderly, both in society at large and in the critical care population, is increasing at an unprecedented rate. Critical care nurses must address how best to provide care to these elders. The authors focus on physiologic, cognitive, and psychosocial characteristics of the elderly that place them at risk for complications during their stay in critical care. The critical care environment also contributes to complications such as sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation or overload, painful procedures, and decreased social support. The critical care environment may also be a factor in facilitating delirium, common in critically ill elders. Critical care nurses can proactively help to create a healing environment for these elders by facilitating sleep, implementing strategies to reduce delirium, preventing or minimizing painful experiences, and liberalizing family visitations.

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