One of the mysteries of intensive care
patients is that about half of them end
up with delirium, a fluctuating state of
serious confusion and inability to focus
or pay attention.
Delirium is hard to identify. And its
effects can last long after patients leave a
Those effects include depression,
anxiety and impaired cognitive abilities.
And family members can also be
affected by delirium; they are at risk of
depression and anxiety.
In Calgary, researchers spearheading
the Family Intensive Care Unit Delirium
Detection Study (FIDDS) hope to reduce
the rates and effects of delirium among
patients and families. FIDDS is one of
only a handful of Canadian studies to
include families in the care of patients
with delirium. Ultimately, the goal is to
reduce stays in intensive care units and
“We’re asking family members to be
more engaged in care, hopefully for the
betterment of everyone,” says Kirsten
Fiest, who holds a PhD in epidemiology.
She is the study’s principal investigator
and an assistant professor in three
departments at the University of
Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.
Fiest and her team recruited 142
patient and caregiver teams for the
study, which ran from November 2017
to September 2018 at Calgary’s Foothills
Medical Centre intensive care unit. The
study was supported by the Canadian
Institutes of Health Research and the
Canadian Frailty Network.
Researchers asked caregivers to
measure delirium symptoms in their
loved ones, using two assessment tools.
The goal was to see if healthcare workers
could also use those tools in an intensive
Fiest plans to publish the results this
spring. And she hopes the findings can
be used in other areas where delirium is
common, such as pediatrics.
The work of Fiest and her team could
help inform the ongoing efforts of the
Alberta Health Services Provincial
ICU Delirium Initiative, which seeks
to minimize the effects of delirium and
improve patient outcomes in all 21
intensive care units across Alberta.
Families join in detecting the mystery of delirium
WRITTEN BY JACQUELINE LOUIE
MOVING PAST ILLNESS
Researcher Kirsten Fiest is
spearheading a study targeting
the rates and effects of delirium
at the Foothills Medical Centre in
Photo by MJay Photography