OBJECTIVE: To differentiate between middle-aged and older adults' visiting preferences in critical care settings. DESIGN: Patients' preferences for visiting, perceptions of illness severity and extent of fatigue associated with visiting and an objective measurement of illness severity while in critical care were surveyed within 3 days after transfer from the critical care unit. SETTING: Interviews occurred on the transitional care units with patients who transferred from either the coronary care or surgical intensive care units in a large Northeast teaching hospital. PATIENTS: Fifty-three middle-aged (35 through 65 years) and 46 older (over 65 years) patients were surveyed (N = 99). RESULTS: Both middle-aged and older patients consistently wanted to limit the number of visitors to two or three persons per visit. Compared with middle-aged patients, a greater proportion of older patients preferred to limit visits to once a day and wanted the visit length to be unlimited. A greater proportion of older coronary care unit patients preferred to limit visits to two times a day than older surgical unit patients. CONCLUSIONS: Middle-aged and older patients differed in their preferences for visits, with sufficient variation in responses to warrant tailoring visits to the unique preferences of patients based on age and clinical setting.

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