How is post-intensive care syndrome (PICS) treated?

The healthcare team will use many approaches to prevent and treat PICS. These include:

  • Using light or minimal sedation.
  • Providing the lowest dose needed to manage pain.
  • Monitoring for and managing delirium.
  • Getting the patient moving as soon as possible in the ICU. Even after the ICU stay, physical therapists and occupational therapists can continue to reduce weakness and improve physical functioning.
  • Recommending pulmonary (lung) or cardiovascular (heart) rehabilitation (if appropriate) due to the high prevalence of respiratory and cardiovascular disease in patients after ICU discharge.
  • Treating depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder with a combination of medications, psychological and behavioral therapies.
  • Avoiding hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) and hypoxemia (low oxygen levels).
  • Encouraging the patient and family members to keep an ICU diary.
  • Providing follow-up counseling with a psychologist or psychiatrist for patients with emotional symptoms.
  • Advising the patient to get an adequate amount of sleep and to eat healthy.

How can family members help their loved one with post intensive care syndrome (PICS)?

Family members can help to decrease the effects of PICS by helping their family member stay “oriented” and encouraging exercise, beginning in the ICU.

  • Talk about the current date and time and familiar people, places and current events.
  • Bring in pictures or favorite items from home.
  • Keep an ICU diary to help cope with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Read stories aloud at the bedside.
  • Participate in activities such as card games or puzzles.
  • Encourage sleep during the night and activity during the day.
  • Ask the health care team to teach you how to help with exercise and bedside care.

How can family members who have post-intensive care syndrome (PICS-F) help themselves?

  • Talk with the health care team about the plan of care.
  • Try to continue a normal daily routine by eating well, getting rest and exercising.
  • Seek support from family or friends.
  • Participate in bedside care.
  • Family members with ongoing emotional symptoms may need to see a professional counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Most hospitals offer social workers, case managers and chaplains to support patients and their families through their critical illness. Ask your healthcare team for more information.

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