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Psychosomatics. 2004 Mar-Apr;45(2):107-13.

Family-perceived distress from delirium-related symptoms of terminally ill cancer patients.

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  • 1Seiri Hospice, Seiri Mikatabara Hospital, the Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka University, Osaka, Japan.


Delirium is a frequent symptom of terminally ill cancer patients and can cause serious distress to family members. To clarify the degree of emotional distress of family members concerning terminal delirium, a survey of bereaved families was performed. A questionnaire was mailed to 300 bereaved families with a request to rate the frequency and level of their distress for 12 delirium-related symptoms. A total of 195 responses were analyzed (effective response rate=65%). Seventy-four percent and 62% of the family members reported that the patients had symptoms of physical restlessness and mood lability, respectively. Psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, were reported by 35%-37%, and somnolence was reported in 92%. The prevalence of cognitive symptoms (e.g., communication difficulty, memory disturbance) ranged between 50% and 72%. More than two-thirds of the bereaved family members perceived all delirium-related symptoms other than somnolence as distressing or very distressing when they occurred "often" or "very often." For physical restlessness, mood lability, and psychotic symptoms that occurred "sometimes," 27%-36% of the family members had moderate to high levels of distress. The bereaved family members of terminally ill cancer patients experienced high levels of distress from both the agitation and cognitive symptoms of terminal delirium. Multidisciplinary interventions, including the prevention of agitation and the minimization of cognitive impairment, pharmacological or medical treatments, and supportive and psychoeducational approaches for family members, are needed to alleviate family distress.

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