Sailing in a sea of perplexity: Family caregivers' experience of patients with delirium

Nurs Crit Care. 2022 Jan;27(1):73-80. doi: 10.1111/nicc.12620. Epub 2021 Apr 23.


Background: Family caregivers play an important role for patients admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), and delirium is a common clinical syndrome. Little is known about the experiences of family caregivers when a relative is a patient with delirium, especially for caregivers in Asian cultures.

Aims and objective: To understand the experience of family caregivers with a family member as a patient with delirium in the ICU in Taiwan.

Design: A descriptive qualitative study with in-depth face-to-face semi-structured interviews.

Methods: Interviews were conducted with 20 family caregivers of 20 patients with delirium in the ICU of a hospital in northern Taiwan.

Results: The core theme describing the phenomenon of family caregivers of a patient with delirium was "Sailing in a sea of perplexity," which described family caregivers' uncertainty of navigating the ICU and providing support for a relative. Three subthemes described the core theme: (a) perplexity of the ICU environment, (b) perplexity of making decisions, and (c) perplexity of Chinese cultural constraints.

Conclusion: "Sailing in a sea of perplexity" underscores how uncertainty among family caregivers of patients with delirium in ICUs can lead to feelings of fear and anxiety. Therefore, nursing professionals should not only focus on patient care but also be sensitive to caregivers' feelings of uncertainty and their cultural beliefs.

Relevance to clinical practice: Unfamiliarity and lack of knowledge about intensive care and patient treatments were a source of family caregivers' perplexity. To reduce uncertainty, we recommend increased communication between staff and caregivers. Hospitals can also provide information on their websites, including treatment of delirium and visitation hours. Information access could be enhanced by developing a smartphone app linked to a QR code that families can scan to obtain information, which would be useful during restricted visitation.

Keywords: delirium patient; experience; family caregiver; intensive care unit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers*
  • Critical Care
  • Delirium*
  • Family
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Qualitative Research