Assessment of delirium in the intensive care unit: nursing practices and perceptions

Am J Crit Care. 2008 Nov;17(6):555-65; quiz 566.


Background: Despite practice guidelines promoting delirium assessment in intensive care, few data exist regarding current delirium assessment practices among nurses and how these practices compare with those for sedation assessment.

Objectives: To identify current practices and perceptions of intensive care nurses regarding delirium assessment and to compare practices for assessing delirium with practices for assessing sedation.

Methods: A paper/Web-based survey was administered to 601 staff nurses working in 16 intensive care units at 5 acute care hospitals with sedation guidelines specifying delirium assessment in the Boston, Massachusetts area.

Results: Overall, 331 nurses (55%) responded. Only 3% ranked delirium as the most important condition to evaluate, compared with altered level of consciousness (44%), presence of pain (23%), or improper placement of an invasive device (21%). Delirium assessment was less common than sedation assessment (47% vs 98%, P < .001) and was more common among nurses who worked in medical intensive care units (55% vs 40%, P = .03) and at academic centers (53% vs 13%, P < .001). Preferred methods for assessing delirium included assessing ability to follow commands (78%), checking for agitation-related events (71%), the Confusion Assessment Method for the Intensive Care Unit (36%), the Intensive Care Delirium Screening Checklist (11%), and psychiatric consultation (9%). Barriers to assessment included intubation (38%), complexity of the tool for assessing delirium (34%), and sedation level (13%).

Conclusions: Practice and perceptions of delirium assessment vary widely among critical care nurses despite the presence of institutional sedation guidelines that promote delirium assessment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Consciousness
  • Delirium / diagnosis*
  • Delirium / epidemiology
  • Delirium / nursing*
  • Education, Nursing, Continuing
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / organization & administration*
  • Male
  • Nursing Administration Research
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital*
  • Perception
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Process Assessment, Health Care