Any illness severe enough to necessitate admission to a critical care unit is life threatening and can precipitate severe anxiety within a family system. Because of the sudden onset of critical illness, anxiety experienced within the family system cannot be prevented. Fear of death, uncertain outcome, emotional turmoil, financial concerns, role changes, disruption of routines, and unfamiliar hospital environments are a few sources of anxiety for family members. Specialized assessment and interventions for families are needed because anxiety may interfere with the family’s ability to receive and comprehend information, maintain patterns of adequate family functioning, use effective coping skills, and provide positive support—for each other and the patient. The family remains the most important social context to consider when determining interventions to positively influence patient outcomes.

Q: How do you define “family”?

Originally, the term “nuclear family” referred to a family composed of husband, wife, and children. Today, the term...

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