Delirium in the ICU : a review

Arend, Emma & Christensen, Martin (2009) Delirium in the ICU : a review. Nursing In Critical Care, 14(3), pp. 145-154.

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The aim of this paper was to review the current discourse in relation to intensive care unit (ICU) delirium. In particular, it will discuss the predisposing and contributory factors associated with delirium's development as well as effects of delirium on patients, staff and family members.


Critically ill patients are at greater risk of developing delirium and, with an ageing population and increased patient acuity permitted by medical advances, delirium is a growing problem in the ICU. However, there is a universal consensus that the definition of ICU delirium needs improvement to aid its recognition and to ensure both hypoalert-hypoactive and hyperalert-hyperactive variants are easily and readily identified.


The effects of ICU delirium have cost implications to the National Health Service in terms of prolonged ventilation and length of hospital stay. The causes of delirium can be readily classified as either predisposing or precipitating factors, which are organic in nature and commonly reversible. However, contributory factors also exist to exacerbate delirium and having an awareness of all these factors promises to aid prevention and expedite treatment. This will avoid or limit the host of adverse physiological and psychological consequences that delirium can provoke and directly enhance both patient and staff safety.


Routine screening of all patients in the ICU for the presence of delirium is crucial to its successful management. Nurses are on the front line to detect, manage and even prevent delirium.

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25 citations in Scopus
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21 citations in Web of Science®

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ID Code: 68975
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: delirium, ICU psychosis, ICU syndrome
DOI: 10.1111/j.1478-5153.2008.00324.x
ISSN: 1478-5153
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > NURSING (111000) > Clinical Nursing - Secondary (Acute Care) (111003)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Nursing
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2009 The Authors. Journal Compilation 2009 British Association of Critical Care Nurses
Deposited On: 21 Mar 2014 00:31
Last Modified: 21 Mar 2014 00:32

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