Some patients in the Mayo Health System have been on ventilators for more than five years as of April 2014, according to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Most patients only need a ventilator for a few weeks, but some may need a ventilator for years, notes MedlinePlus.
Long-term ventilator patients are moved from hospitals to long-term care facilities. In rare cases, these people can go home, but this usually occurs if someone has a breathing hole in the neck rather than a ventilator tube through the mouth, explains MedlinePlus. A ventilator, otherwise known as a breathing machine or respirator, helps patients breathe when they cannot breathe on their own. A ventilator's breathing tube is inserted in the patient's mouth or through a small hole cut into the trachea through the neck. The machine is connected to a computer to allow health care professionals to make adjustments, and the ventilator sounds an alarm if something needs to be adjusted.
Most ventilator patients are sedated so they remain comfortable while using the device. People on a ventilator cannot talk, but they can write if they are strong enough to communicate. Some patients may be restrained so they do not pull out vital tubes accidentally, notes MedlinePlus. Doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists closely monitor ventilator patients for signs of lung infections.