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ICU Delirium Outcomes

After you’ve left the ICU

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​What does it mean to have ICU delirium?

Delirium is a condition that affects the brain. It often shows up suddenly, within hours or days. Some​ features of delirium include:

  • trouble focusing (called inattention)
  • changes in behavior
  • confusion

There are many risk factors for delirium such as having a severe infection or being on certain medicines. Even a stay in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU) can put you at risk. Delirium related to a stay in an ICU is called ICU delirium​. For most people, ICU delirium only lasts a few days.

Why is ICU delirium important to talk about?

Having delirium can lead to longer stays in the ICU and in hospital after discharge from ICU. Some of the reasons that patients may need to stay longer in the ICU include:

  • spending more time on a ventilator (a tube that helps you breathe)
  • muscle weakness
  • moving around less (called immobility)
  • sleep problems in hospital
  • a slower ​recovery
  • persistent delirium

After being in the ICU, people may go home from the hospital not knowing what’s wrong but they feel different. They may think they feel this way because of why they were in the hospital, but this may not be the cause.

The more days you or your loved one has delirium in the hospital, the more likely there will be problems related to ICU delirium after getting home.

“My recovery was shocking – long and drawn out. Physical recovery took a year. For the first 6 months I was bedridden. I couldn’t walk up the stairs [in my house]. My husband had to buy a bed for me to sleep in the living room. I couldn’t take care of my kids…during the first 6 months I was back in the hospital a few times…. One of the most challenging things for me was learning how to walk again.”

“I no longer recognized a lot of people. As the months went on, I went through my Facebook contacts and didn’t know who these people were anymore…Short-term memory issues were profound. I would make lists for everything. I would drive to the store for one item… by the time I got to the store I wouldn’t remember what I had gone for”. – Nadine, mother of 2 and ICU survivor


Experience w​ith Long-term Impact of ICU Delirium – Nadine Foster​


For More Information

  • Health Link – Health Advice 24/7: 811

Current as of: March 25, 2021

Author: Critical Care SCN, Alberta Health Services