Palliative care for critically ill older adults: dimensions of nursing advocacy

Katherine A Dawson
Critical Care Nursing Quarterly 2008, 31 (1): 19-23
Overall, critical care nursing and medical teams are inadequately prepared to deliver palliative care for the critically ill geriatric patient. Conversations with nursing and medical providers caring for the frail elderly within an intensive care unit often reveal feelings of concern for overtreatment of patients when hope for improvement has diminished. Decline of critically ill elders regularly results in conflicts and disagreements surrounding care directives among patient, family, nursing, and specialty service teams. Uncertainty shrouds the care goals as the patient declines within a critical care setting. Nursing and medical providers caring for the critically ill elderly population often waver anxiously between aggressive verses palliative care measures and are troubled by ethical dilemmas of "doing more harm than good." Collaborative, interdisciplinary practice in the face of such dilemmas offers an interactive and practical approach that promotes clinical excellence and improves quality of care for the critically ill. This article defines palliative care, discusses the complexities of caring for the critically ill older adult, and suggests recommendations for nursing practice.

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