Predispositions and triggers for delirium, such as noxious agents are known and behavior can be monitored; however, there is little to no information available regarding the experience of patients during delirium episodes. Not much is known about a person’s world of experiences, which therefore mostly remains as a sort of black box.
This study was motivated by the following question: “What do (Austrian) geriatric patients experience during an episode of delirium in an acute care hospital?” The main objective of this article is to present little snippets from the experiences and to allow geriatric patients to speak for themselves.
Patients and methods
From 2013 to 2016 interviews were carried out within the framework of a qualitative investigation. For data collection narrative interviews according to Fritz Schütze were employed and 10 interviews were conducted in a hospital setting with German-speaking Austrian patients aged between 75 and 90 years (mean age 80.2 years; 7 female and 3 male). The individual interviews lasted between 60 and 120 min. Primary data in the form of individual interpretation and interpretation groups from interview transcripts were marked and coded according to Mayring.
All patients who participated in the interviews subjectively recognized delirium as a negative experience. The data analysis led to three main categories with subcategories: changes in sensory perception, extraordinarily strong emotions and memories. It is important to differentiate between two very different types of memories: firstly, personal fate or life changes and secondly, those regarding experiences of war.
Scandinavian and Anglo-American literature describe different categories, such as a change in reality, strong emotions and dramatic episodes in the experience of delirium, which can be transferred to Austria. Others consider the biography of each individual patient in context with the sociocultural history of Austria, especially following developments after 1940.