HOW INTENSIVE CARE CAN AFFECT YOUR MIND

Intensive care is wonderful at saving lives but until I researched the subject for Nursing Standard I hadn’t appreciated just how serious its effects on mental health can be for some people.
You’ve been in intensive care, survived and feel grateful to be alive. What you may not be prepared for and feel guilty about is the depression and anxiety you experience. You’re not alone. Pioneering research by Dr Dorothy Wade chartered health psychologist at University College Hospital London has found that many people get very stressed in intensive care. It’s hardly surprising. You’re very ill, have all sorts of tubes in you, it’s incredibly noisy in the unit and alarms sound constantly, lights are on all the time and some of the medicines you’re given may cause side effects such as hallucinations. In a nutshell intensive care can feel very scary, you may think you’re going mad and for some people the psychological side effects last long after they leave the unit. Dr Wade’s research where 157 patients were interviewed 3 months after they left intensive care found that as many as 50 per cent had developed psychological problems and some had developed distressing flashbacks to the time they were in the unit.
The good news is that research is now underway to see whether nurses on the unit can reduce stress by learning how to calm and reassure patients, to explain that intensive care is very stressful for many people and to identify those at high risk of developing long term problems who need extra psychological support. Moves are also underway to make intensive care less alarming e.g. by reducing unnecessary noise and light. See ‘Easing ICU Trauma’ 9 April 2014, Nursing Standard,

http://rcnpublishing.com/doi/pdfplus/10.7748/ns2014.04.28.32.20.s26

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