Managing delirium in the acute care setting: a pilot focus group study

Int J Older People Nurs. 2012 Jun;7(2):152-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-3743.2012.00324.x. Epub 2012 Apr 18.


Background: Delirium frequently occurs in hospitalised older adults leading to poor outcomes and frequent adverse events. Proper recognition and management of delirium by acute care nurses can minimise the effects of negative sequelae associated with delirium.

Aim: This pilot study used focus group methodology to: (i) describe acute care nurse's experience and knowledge regarding assessment and management of delirium in hospitalised older adults; (ii) illustrate potential facilitators and barriers to non-drug management of delirium; and (iii) to explicate the use of non-drug interventions by acute care nurses to manage delirium in hospitalised older adults.

Design: Qualitative, pilot study.

Methods: A total of 16 nurse participants, working on medical, surgical and orthopaedic units from one acute care hospital participated in two focus groups.

Results: Main themes included the following: confusion is normal; our duty is to protect; and finding a balance. Nurses were able to identify non-pharmacological interventions for delirium and facilitators and barriers to using these in clinical practice.

Conclusions: Findings from this pilot study illustrate the need for regular assessment of cognitive status in hospitalised older adults and nursing staff education regarding the use of non-pharmacological management of delirium. Based on their experience, nurses have a wealth of ideas for managing delirium. Areas for future research and policy are also highlighted.

Implications for practice: More research is needed on how to improve delirium management by acute care nurses to increase the efficacy and use of non-pharmacological interventions in the management of delirium in hospitalised older adults. To translate these findings into practice, nursing care needs to be guided by evidence-based guidelines to implement non-pharmacological strategies in the acute care setting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease / nursing
  • Aged
  • Clinical Competence / statistics & numerical data
  • Delirium* / diagnosis
  • Delirium* / physiopathology
  • Delirium* / therapy
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Geriatric Assessment*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Nursing Assessment / methods*
  • Nursing Research
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Pennsylvania
  • Pilot Projects
  • Problem-Based Learning
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Support
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Management
  • Treatment Outcome