Mechanical ventilation is a life-sustaining technology used with increasing frequency in the elderly population. Prolonged mechanical ventilation is associated with high morbidity, mortality, and poor functional status. Care of these complex patients requires a coordinated multidisciplinary approach to optimize outcome. To minimize mortality and morbidity and contain health care costs, it is essential to identify patients at high risk for prolonged ventilation and to implement early interventions to curtail functional decline. In this article, the incidence and outcome of prolonged mechanical ventilation is reviewed, along with interventions to promote recovery. In particular, the role of tracheostomy timing and placement is discussed.

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