Breaking it Down: Post Intensive Care Syndrome and The Family

Oct 13, 2018 | Annie Johnson | @andreab | Comments (3)


It is a common sight in the intensive care unit. Family members at the bedside, sometimes 24/7. Holding vigil and attentively monitoring each moment of the day for their critically ill/injured loved one. After all, who knows the needs and subtle hints of change of the patient better then close loved ones?

Presence and engagement of loved ones in the care of the critically ill/injured patient is becoming increasingly recognized as a vital aspect of day to day critical care management. Family members are now more than ever included in and consulted during daily rounds. What the medical team can gain from family participation is invaluable.

However, the increased demands placed on family members and loved ones caring for the critically ill can quickly become overwhelming. Altered sleep and eating patterns, displacement from home, disrupted work routines, and the high stress levels that accompany the ICU environment can be too much for some to bear. Family members and loved ones may experience anxiety, depression, complicated grief, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When this happens it is called PICS-Family or PICS-F.

Burdening my husband and fearing he would lose his health from caring for me, especially when he worked/traveled 10 hours, 5 days each week, was of concern for me...Though his deep weariness was obvious to me, he was clear that he wanted to care for me.

-ICU survivor via Mayo Clinic Connect

Highlighted below are some of the steps that loved ones and family members can take to minimize the negative effects that an ICU environment can have:

  • Take breaks. Although it is important to be present at the bedside of your loved one for many reasons, taking time away from the ICU environment is very important. Whether it is a scheduled coffee break or a walk for fresh air, time to yourself is very important.
  • Sleep. This is easier said than done. But quality sleep is essential to maintaining your physical and mental health while caring for a loved one who is critically ill/injured. Consider sleeping in a room outside of the hospital or at least the hospital room if possible.
  • Eat. Do not underestimate the importance of good nutrition during times of stress. It is not uncommon for your appetite to decrease as your stress levels increase. If you find this to be true, focus on eating smaller, more nutrient dense meals and snacks during the day. Avoid high sugar, nutrient poor foods. And remember to drink water and stay hydrated.
  • Find support. You don't have to do this alone. Whether it is reaching out to other friends and family or joining a support group, sharing your thoughts, worries, and emotions with others can be tremendously helpful.

All of the above advice is intended to help keep you as healthy as possible while caring for your loved one. The road to recovery from critical illness/injury is often a long one, and you will best meet the needs of your loved one by first meeting your own.

If you are worried that you or a loved one may be experiencing PICS-F, seek out the care of your primary care provider. Bring this information with you. Tell him or her about the surrounding events and identify the specific changes you are noticing in yourself. Caring for yourself is as important as caring for your loved one.

Come back next month when we discuss Post Intensive Care Syndrome and Children.

In the meantime, join our conversation online. Have you or a loved one experienced critical illness/injury? You're not alone. Share your story and connect with others who have been on the same journey:

Post-Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS) - Let's Talk



Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Post Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS) blog.

We are both older. I am 71 and she is 75. This spring she came down with lung infection and was in the hospital for 2 weeks and then 3 weeks in rehab. When she got out, I went down with a UTI and in the hospital for a week and then had relapses from April through August. Lots of time with medical issues and people and talk and concern. It is nice to be needed to care for someone. I know many people have pets so that they have something to love and take care of and the pet returns that affection unconditionally. We have each other. It is a comfort to know that we need each other in addition to loving each other. We are both much better now and getting on with life but how quickly that can change and don't take it for granted as much any more. I am on line a lot and read about so many people feeling alone. You don't have to be alone even if this is just an on line group of concerned and caring people who love each other. And who will listen to your thoughts and feelings. You are important. Reach out as we have and know that others care about you.


@hodagwi I wanted to write a quick note to say how much I appreciate your message and your definition of Mayo Clinic Connect "You don't have to be alone even if this is just an online group of concerned and caring people who love each other. And who will listen to your thoughts and feelings. You are important. Reach out as we have and know that others care about you."

You are so right. Members like you are listening. It does help. Thank you.


@hodagwi I was a patient in the ICU for nearly two months in an induced coma from the flu and fought Sepsis, Multi-Organ Failure, and pneumonia. My experience brought me into nursing and research. Now I fight everyday to ensure better outcomes for patients and families.I wish I knew of a forum like this when I got back from the hospital. After leaving the ICU and Rehab, I went home and felt like all my support had left me. It was an extremely hard year dealing with isolation, family dynamics that had experienced the trauma of the ICU, tapering off opiods, dealing with pain and mobility issues. Somehow, going into nursing and what that entailed gave me new purpose and energy as I never wanted anyone to go through what I did that first year out of the ICU. I hope I can add well to the discussion moving forward. Glad to know you are both doing well! I have a yellow lab and he is my best pal!

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