Delirium in advanced cancer leading to distress in patients and family caregivers

Z. Cohen Marlene, A. Pace Ellen, Guddi Kaur, Bruera Eduardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Background: Information is limited about the experiences of delirium among patients with advanced cancer and their caregivers, which makes designing interventions to relieve delirium-related distress difficult. To better understand the experience and thus permit the design of effective interventions, we collected and analyzed data from patients with advanced cancer who had recovered from delirium and their family caregivers. Method: Phenomenological interviews were conducted separately with 37 caregivers and 34 patients. One investigator reviewed verbatim transcripts of the audio-taped interviews to identify themes, which the research team confirmed. Results: Most patients and all caregivers had vivid memories of the experience; their descriptions were consistent. Most also attributed the confusion to pain medication. Caregivers had concerns about how best to help patients, patients' imminent deaths, and their own well-being. Conclusions: The main finding that delirium leads to distress for both patients and caregivers indicates the importance of recognizing, treating, and, if possible, preventing delirium in this population. Concerns about pain medications also indicate the need to educate patients and caregivers about symptom management. Caregivers also need emotional support.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-171
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Palliative Care
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Delirium
  • Distress
  • Family caregivers
  • Patients with advanced cancer
  • Symptom management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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