Let’s start with the obvious: the ICU saves lives that otherwise would end. But the impact of this aggressive care can compromise life after release from the ICU.
This segment broadcast in June of 2016 describes the adverse impact of the ICU and speaks of a new diagnostic term Post-Traumatic Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS) describing the lasting emotional and cognitive effects of being in the ICU.
You will be able to see efforts by Vanderbilt University Hospital to help patients who are suffering with PICS. It’s clear that the ICU impacts emotional stability may also impair cognition. But there is less research about whether the impact on cognition is a lasting or a transitory effect of the very heavy medication often used in the ICU. Two very interesting elements to this video are (1) the statistic that 1/3 get better, 1/3 stay the same, and 1/3 get worse in terms of their psychological functioning and (2) that one of the patients (a physician) said he is absolutely terrified about ever going back into the ICU. Note that this patient was in the ICU longer than the three day average.
The ICU is mentioned in Chapter 4 of my book as an important issue to think about because of the implications for your overall welfare.
There is no doubt that the ICU saves lives through the use of high tech equipment, powerful drugs, and highly skilled physicians and nurses. I know that I’ m repeating myself… yes, the ICU can truly save your life! And this video says it can come with costs. Show it to your family and proxy and think about what you want for yourself. If you have an aging relative, show it to them and ask what they would choose: comfort care or aggressive care?
There are important implications for your advanced medical directives. Serious conversations need to be initiated about how much treatment is right for you. Keep in mind that age can play a substantial role in making the best choices.