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Nurses’ experiences of managing cognitive problems in intensive care unit patients: A qualitative study

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Objectives: Nurses hold a key position in identifying symptoms and initiating preventive strategies for cognitive impairment in delirious and non-delirious intensive care unit patients. However, it remains unclear whether nurses consider cognitive impairment as a distinct concern from delirium. By understanding nurses’ perspectives, we may identify barriers and facilitators in caring for patients with cognitive challenges in the intensive care unit. The objective of this study was to explore nurses’ experiences of cognitive problems in patients admitted to an intensive care unit. Research methodology: A phenomenological-hermeneutic study of interviews with ten nurses from intensive care units. Data were collected in March-April 2022 and analysed using a Ricœur-inspired method of interpretation. Findings: Three themes related to nurses’ experiences of cognitive problems emerged through analysis; 1) Cognitive problems and delirium are seen as two sides of the same coin, 2) Searching for the person behind the patient, and 3) Maintaining a sense of normality in a confusing environment. Conclusions: The interconnected concept of cognitive impairment and delirium syndrome meant that nurses assessed and managed cognitive problems in intensive care unit patients by focusing on preventing delirium. Apart from delirium screening, nurses relied on relatives’ knowledge to assess patients’ cognition. Most significantly, our study revealed a previously unexplored approach by nurses to manage patients’ cognition, which involved “shielding” patients from the noisy and disruptive intensive care unit environment. Implications for clinical practice: Effective communication methods, coupled with family involvement may aid nurses in identifying patients’ cognitive problems. In the acute phase of critical illness, distinguishing between delirium and cognitive problems may not be clinically relevant, as delirium protocols may protect patients’ cognition. Further investigating the concept of shielding may reveal previously unexplored nursing approaches to manage cognitive problems.

TidsskriftIntensive and Critical Care Nursing
StatusUdgivet - dec. 2023

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the nurses who participated in the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors

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