Sedation for delirium and other symptoms in terminally ill patients in Edmonton

J Palliat Care. Summer 2000;16(2):5-10.


The use of sedation and the management of delirium and other difficult symptoms in terminally ill patients in Edmonton has been reported previously. The focus of this study was to assess the prevalence in the Edmonton region of difficult symptoms requiring sedation at the end of life. Data were collected for 50 consecutive patients at each of (a) the tertiary palliative care unit, (b) the consulting palliative care program at the Royal Alexandra Hospital (acute care), and (c) three hospice inpatient units in the city. Patients on the tertiary palliative care unit were significantly younger. Assessments confirmed the more problematic physical and psychosocial issues of patients in the tertiary palliative care unit. These patients had more difficult pain syndromes and required significantly higher doses of daily opioids. Approximately 80% of patients in all three settings developed delirium prior to death. Pharmacological management of this problem was needed by 40% in the acute care setting, and by 80% in the tertiary palliative care unit. The patients sedated varied from 4% in the hospice setting to 10% in the tertiary palliative care unit. Of the 150 patients, nine were sedated for delirium, one for dyspnea. The prevalence of delirium and other symptoms requiring sedation in our area is relatively low compared to others reported in the literature. Demographic variability between the three Edmonton settings highlights the need for caution in comparing results of different palliative care groups. It is possible that some variability in the use of sedation internationally is due to cultural differences. The infrequent deliberate use of sedation in Edmonton suggests that improved management has resulted in fewer distressing symptoms at the end of life. This is of benefit to patients and to family members who are with them during this time.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alberta / epidemiology
  • Culture
  • Delirium / drug therapy*
  • Delirium / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Assessment
  • Palliative Care*
  • Prevalence
  • Terminal Care*
  • Terminology as Topic


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives