How nurses understand and care for older people with delirium in the acute hospital: a Critical Discourse Analysis

Irene Schofield, Debbie Tolson, Valerie Fleming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Delirium is a common presentation of deteriorating health in older people. It is potentially deleterious in terms of patient experience and clinical outcomes. Much of what is known about delirium is through positivist research, which forms the evidence base for disease-based classification systems and clinical guidelines. There is little systematic study of nurses' day-to-day practice of nursing patients with delirium. The aim was to uncover the kinds of knowledge that informs nurses' care and to explicate the basis of that knowledge. Critical Discourse Analysis is underpinned by the premise that powerful interests within society mediate how social practices are constructed. Links were made between the grammatical and lexical features of nurses' language about care in interviews and naturalistic settings, and the healthcare context. Care focused on the continuous surveillance of patients with delirium by nurses themselves or vicariously through other patients, and containment. Nurses influenced by major discourses of risk reduction and safety, constructed patients with delirium as risk objects. The philosophy of person-centred and dignified care advocated in nursing literature and government policy is an emerging discourse, though little evident in the data. The current dominant discourses on safety must give space to discourses of dignity and compassion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-76
Number of pages12
JournalNursing Inquiry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012


  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Clinical Competence
  • Delirium
  • Geriatric Nursing
  • Humans
  • Nursing Diagnosis
  • Nursing Research
  • Nursing Theory
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Assessment


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