Effectiveness of cognitive interventions on cognitive outcomes of adult intensive care unit survivors: A scoping review

Aust Crit Care. 2021 Sep;34(5):473-485. doi: 10.1016/j.aucc.2020.11.001. Epub 2021 Jan 30.


Background: Cognitive impairments have been identified as significant under-recognised negative sequelae of postintensive care syndrome. No treatment guidelines exist for cognitive interventions addressing the devastating consequences of impairments and their potential impact on outcomes of intensive care unit (ICU) survivors.

Aim: The aim of the study was to identify all available cognitive interventions and measurable outcomes for the cognitive rehabilitation of adult ICU survivors, as reported in published articles. Secondary aims included to critically synthesise existing evidence in improving adult ICU survivors' cognitive outcomes after ICU discharge and to extract implications for future research.

Methods: A scoping review was conducted based on a rigorous literature search (CINAHL, Embase, MEDLINE, PubMed, SCOPUS, Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar) using predefined keywords. The protocol was based on current guidelines. Eligibility criteria included published (i) experimental and quasi-experimental studies reporting the effects of cognitive interventions on cognitive outcomes of adult critical illness survivors after hospital discharge and (ii) protocols identifying cognitive interventions with predefined cognitive outcome measures.

Results: Seven studies were included: three experimental studies, two quasi-experimental studies, and two published protocols. Significant heterogeneity in the type of interventions, outcome measures, and assessment tools was noted. Interventions included variations of goal management training and an integrated multidisciplinary model. The setting, delivery, and duration of interventions varied. Cognitive outcomes included variations of global cognitive function and executive function. Overall, the evidence on the effects of cognitive interventions, as compared with routine care, in improving global cognitive function is inconclusive. More evidence support exists with respect to improving executive function.

Conclusion: Although various cognitive intervention approaches have shown some positive effects on outcomes of ICU survivors after hospital discharge, the high risk of bias and high heterogeneity across studies preclude conclusions about the most appropriate post-ICU care to rehabilitate cognitive deficits in critical care survivors. This review highlighted a number of methodological limitations that require further investigation.

Keywords: Cognitive interventions; Cognitive outcomes; Cognitive rehabilitation; Cognitive therapy; Cognitive treatment; ICU survivors; Post-ICU; Postintensive care syndrome (PICS); Scoping review; Survivors of critical illness.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition
  • Critical Illness*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Survivors

Supplementary concepts

  • postintensive care syndrome