A combined early cognitive and physical rehabilitation program for people who are critically ill: the activity and cognitive therapy in the intensive care unit (ACT-ICU) trial

Phys Ther. 2012 Dec;92(12):1580-92. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20110414. Epub 2012 May 10.


Background: In the coming years, the number of survivors of critical illness is expected to increase. These survivors frequently develop newly acquired physical and cognitive impairments. Long-term cognitive impairment is common following critical illness and has dramatic effects on patients' abilities to function autonomously. Neuromuscular weakness affects similar proportions of patients and leads to equally profound life alterations. As knowledge of these short-term and long-term consequences of critical illness has come to light, interventions to prevent and rehabilitate these devastating consequences have been sought. Physical rehabilitation has been shown to improve functional outcomes in people who are critically ill, but subsequent studies of physical rehabilitation after hospital discharge have not. Post-hospital discharge cognitive rehabilitation is feasible in survivors of critical illness and is commonly used in people with other forms of acquired brain injury. The feasibility of early cognitive therapy in people who are critically ill remains unknown.

Objective: The purpose of this novel protocol trial will be to determine the feasibility of early and sustained cognitive rehabilitation paired with physical rehabilitation in patients who are critically ill from medical and surgical intensive care units.

Design: This is a randomized controlled trial.

Setting: The setting for this trial will be medical and surgical intensive care units of a large tertiary care referral center.

Patients: The participants will be patients who are critically ill with respiratory failure or shock.

Intervention: Patients will be randomized to groups receiving usual care, physical rehabilitation, or cognitive rehabilitation plus physical rehabilitation. Twice-daily cognitive rehabilitation sessions will be performed with patients who are noncomatose and will consist of orientation, memory, and attention exercises (eg, forward and reverse digit spans, matrix puzzles, letter-number sequences, pattern recognition). Daily physical rehabilitation sessions will advance patients from passive range of motion exercises through ambulation. Patients with cognitive or physical impairment at discharge will undergo a 12-week, in-home cognitive rehabilitation program.

Measurements: A battery of neurocognitive and functional outcomes will be measured 3 and 12 months after hospital discharge.

Conclusions: If feasible, these interventions will lay the groundwork for a larger, multicenter trial to determine their efficacy.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01270269.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cognition Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Continuity of Patient Care*
  • Critical Illness / rehabilitation*
  • Early Ambulation
  • Home Care Services*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Muscle Weakness / rehabilitation*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Research Design

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01270269