Older adults' perceptions of feeling safe in an intensive care unit

J Adv Nurs. 2011 Dec;67(12):2649-57. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2011.05714.x. Epub 2011 Jun 7.


Aim: This paper is a report of a study of older adults' perceptions of feeling safe in an intensive care unit.

Background: Significant ageing of the world population is expected. Correspondingly, there is a growing global urgency for healthcare systems to prepare for the increased number of older adults who will require intensive care. Although patients have recounted situations in which feeling safe was essential to their experience, there is little empirical evidence about feeling safe for older adults in intensive care.

Method: In 2008, 10 older adults who suffered unexpected critical health events and who were admitted to intensive care units were recruited for this grounded theory study. Participants were interviewed after transferring to an intermediate care unit and again after discharge. They were asked to reflect upon and discuss their experiences of feeling safe in intensive care.

Findings: Participants' actual and expected interaction with intensive care nurses was essential to their perceptions of feeling safe. Four main categories were identified as requisite to interaction with nurses: proximity, oversight, predictability and initiative. A substantive grounded theory of feeling safe for older adults in intensive care is presented.

Conclusion: Nurses must present themselves as accessible so patients perceive that they can initiate interaction with a qualified nurse. Patients must also see that nurses are monitoring them and believe that the nurses will help them if they experience a critical health event while in the intensive care unit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Communication
  • Critical Care / psychology*
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / organization & administration*
  • Male
  • Nurse-Patient Relations*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Safety*
  • United States