Perspectives on the Delirium Experience and Its Burden: Common Themes Among Older Patients, Their Family Caregivers, and Nurses

Document Type


Publication Date


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)



Background and Objectives: While there are qualitative studies examining the delirium-related experiences of patients, family caregivers, and nurses separately, little is known about common aspects of delirium burden among all three groups. We describe common delirium burdens from the perspectives of patients, family caregivers, and nurses. Research Design and Methods: We conducted semistructured qualitative interviews about delirium burden with 18 patients who had recently experienced a delirium episode, with 16 family caregivers, and with 15 nurses who routinely cared for patients with delirium. We recruited participants from a large, urban teaching hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Interviews were recorded and transcribed. We used interpretive description as the approach to data analysis. Results: We identified three common burden themes of the delirium experience: Symptom Burden (Disorientation, Hallucinations/Delusions, Impaired Communication, Memory Problems, Personality Changes, Sleep Disturbances); Emotional Burden (Anger/Frustration, Emotional Distress, Fear, Guilt, Helplessness); and Situational Burden (Loss of Control, Lack of Attention, Lack of Knowledge, Lack of Resources, Safety Concerns, Unpredictability, Unpreparedness). These burdens arise from different sources among patients, family caregivers, and nurses, with markedly differing perspectives on the burden experience. Discussion and Implications: Our findings advance the understanding of common burdens of the delirium experience for all groups and offer structure for instrument development and distinct interventions to address the burden of delirium as an individual or group experience. Our work reinforces that no one group experiences delirium in isolation. Delirium is a shared experience that will respond best to systemwide approaches to reduce associated burden.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

The Gerontologist, v. 59, issue 2, p. 327-337