What is Delirium? The ABCDE Bundle

According to my fiancé (yes we got engaged! And yes, he’s not a healthcare guy. In fact, he’s scared of needles), when he hears the word delirium, he thinks of someone being delirious or confused. Unfortunately, this state happens a lot in the ICU and causes a lot of problems.

You can go from being a crazy beast, pulling everything to being super quiet, not making eye contact to someone’s voice. What are the potential causes of delirium and what interventions can be done? Use THINK.




The Gold Standard to determine’s someone state is called the RASS score, or the Richmond Agitation-Sedation Scale. It goes from +4 to -5, as listed below. In conjunction with this, utilizing the Confusion Assessment Method for the ICU (CAM-ICU) determines if delirium is present.


A lot of times we are using medications for agitation and sedation but studies are showing that using multiple non pharmaceutical methods decreased delirium by 15%.

In the article, the evidence shows the following will help prevent delirium:

  • Early mobilization.
  • Frequent reorientation.
  • Clinical status updates and schedules.
  • Discuss patient requiring memory recall.

To me, when I read that list, I think most of it is pretty easy. Except for early mobilization. From what I’ve heard, there are patients who are intubated sitting in a chair! In my current ICU, that does not happen. The biggest concern is the stability of the patient. So what can we do?

Implement the ABCDE Bundle,

which stands of Awakening and Breathing Coordination, Delirium Monitoring and Management, and Early Mobility. It incorporates the best available evidence related to delirium, immobility, sedation/analgesia, and ventilator management in the ICU. For the ABC Bundle, the nurse and respiratory therapist will go through his or her checklist before the trial.

A stands for Awakening.

The first step is to see if the patient can undergo a Spontaneous Awakening Trial (SAT). The nurse assesses these qualities:

  1. Is patient receiving a sedative infusion for active seizures?
  2. Is patient receiving a sedative infusion for alcohol withdrawal?
  3. Is patient receiving a paralytic agent (neuromuscular blockade)?
  4. Is patient’s score on the Richmond Agitation Sedation Scale (RASS) >2?
  5. Is there documentation of myocardial ischemia in the past 24 hours?
  6. Is patient’s intracranial pressure (ICP) >20 mm Hg?
  7. Is patient receiving sedative medications in an attempt to control intracranial pressure?
  8. Is patient currently receiving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)?

If the answer is yes to any of the above, then there needs to be a discussion with the interdisciplinary team before performing a SAT. If the answer is no to all of the above, then proceed with performing the SAT. Stop the sedation. If the following occurs, you should put the patient back on sedation but try at 1/3 to 1/2 the rate the patient was on before.

  1. RASS score >2 for 5 minutes or longer
  2. Pulse oximetry reading <88% for 5 minutes or longer
  3. Respirations >35/min for 5 minutes or longer
  4. New acute cardiac arrhythmia
  5. ICP >20 mm Hgb
  6. 2 or more of the following symptoms of respiratory distress:
    • Heart rate increase 20 or more beats per minute
    • heart rate less than 55 beats per minute
    • use of accessory muscles, abdominal paradox, diaphoresis, dyspnea

If possible, changing the sedation from propofol to precedex will help patient be calm and it does not depress respiratory status (especially after 24 hours).

B stands for Breathing.

Spontaneous Breathing Trials (SBT) are up next. The respiratory therapist will assess for safety.

  1. Is patient a long-term/ventilator-dependent patient?
  2. Is patient’s pulse oximetry reading <88%?
  3. Is patient’s fraction of inspired oxygen (FIO2) >50%?
  4. Is patient’s set positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) >7 cm H2O?
  5. Is there documentation of myocardial ischemia in the past 24 hours?
  6. Is patient’s ICP >20 mm Hg?
  7. Is patient receiving mechanical ventilation in an attempt to control ICP?
  8. Is the patient currently taking vasopressor medications?
  9. Does the patient lack inspiratory effort?

If the answer is yes to any of the above, then it may not be safe to perform the SBT. If the answer is no to all of the above, then the SBT is performed. However, if any of the below occurs indicating signs of failure, then stop.

  1. Respiratory rate >35 breaths per minute for 5 minutes or longer
  2. Respiratory rate <8/min
  3. Pulse oximetry reading of <88% for 5 minutes or longer
  4. ICP >20 mm Hg
  5. 2 or more of the following symptoms of respiratory distress
    • Use of accessory muscles
    • Abdominal paradox
    • Diaphoresis
    • Dyspnea
    • Abrupt changes in mental status
    • Acute cardiac arrhythmia

And of course, who is watching for these symptoms? The registered nurses.


C stands for Coordination.

This refers to the coordination mostly between the respiratory therapist and the nurse, although the discussion during the interdisciplinary team will also play a part.


D stands for Delirium.

THINK about the causes, use the RASS score every 4 hours and the CAM-ICU score every shift.


E stands for Early Mobility.

What I’m interested in is the minimum criteria for early mobility protocol.



However, if there’s any patient distress, then it’s time to stop. Below are the criteria for stopping early mobility.


 It’s hard to start something new as an individual as it requires a cultural change and the healthcare team to be behind it. 

But maybe the next time you take care of a ventilated patient, you’ll think of the ABCDE bundle and implement it as a part of your care. 


Which Nursing Journal is good? — the Impact Factor

thinkingIn Off the Charts, the official blog of the American Journal of Nursing, it states that 71% of bedside nurses use Google to search for Evidence Based Practice to better their practice (and here’s how to do it better). However, how do you know about the quality of a journal? There are 100s of nursing journals. One of the best ways to evaluate a nursing journal is through the Impact Factor (IF).

The Impact Factor tells the reader that how often the articles in that journal have been cited in other journals. The higher the number, the better it is. On this website, it has links to nearly all of the nursing journals and has a impact factor written next to it, if it has one at all

The American Journal of Nursing has a impact factor of 1.319, which places it at #18 out of all of the nursing journals for 2014. A couple of the ones I’m interested in are the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing (1.431), American Journal of Critical Care (1.656), and Critical Care Nurse (1.077). While each article may not be the best, the journal as a whole tend to produce quality information. 

Now, in order for these journals to make money, they charge for the articles. But there are a few ways to get them for free.

  1. Join the Nursing Association that is associated with the journal. For example, joining the Preventative Cardiovascular Nurse Association (PCNA) for $75 includes the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing (normally $129/year) for free. Plus, by joining the PCNA, you’ll also receive other resources, discounts on meetings, etc. Another great organization is the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN), which also includes the American Journal of Critical Care and Critical Care Nurse.
  2. Go to the Nursing Center. They have updated new and free journal articles. Even better, they offer a free journal for you to look through every twice a month.
  3. Go to your college’s library website. Part of your tuition goes into purchasing these journals for students to use (because they can get very expensive if you bought them on your own!). If you are attending NYU, go to library.nyu.edu, go under find resources, then click on journals. Or go to getit.library.nyu.edu. Be sure to log in to read the journals!

I hope that by understanding what the Impact Factor is, you can make better decisions on which Nursing Journals you should read or even buy. Maybe you’ll even join a nursing organization! Keep updated on the latest and greatest in this constantly evolving field. And share what you learn with other nurses. Maybe it’ll even make a difference.

Talking to intubated patients make a difference

I’ve taken care of my fair share of intubated patients. But over the last 2 nights, I encountered something different. They went from calm to wild in just a few minutes. If the sedation was down, then I increased that. Normally it works pretty fast.

But it wasn’t so in this case. Both patients were ‘bucking the vent.’ One didn’t have a PRN order ready so for one I had my coworker help me get an order and prepare ativan. But in the meantime, I remember reading critical care nursing journals about the experiences of previously intubated patients. They said to always assume that the patient can hear you. They said that when the nurse talked to them about where they were, what’s going on, and what to do, in a strong confident voice, that the patients felt comforted by that. So that’s exactly what I did.

This patient kept biting down on the tube (which is a big no no because we don’t want a punctured tube!!). “You’re in the hospital and you’re very sick. I’m Jessica, your nurse. Right now you’re having trouble breathing so you have a breathing tube. I know it’s uncomfortable but you need this. Try to calm down and take slow breaths. Open your mouth. Your face is very red but calming down will allow you to breathe better.”

Once I said this, the patient did calm down and opened her mouth.

“Good, your face is looking better and you’re oxygenating better. We are going to turn you to the side to clean you because you had a little accident, ok?”

She was able to cooperate much more at this point. And this happened before giving the ativan. My coworker then came in, administered it (“we’re going to give you something to help you relax now”), and she was at peace again.

Even though she couldn’t focus her eyes and couldn’t follow simple commands, it seems as though what I said did make a difference.


5 Triggers for Palliative Care in the ICU

Right now, I notice that some patients get palliative care too late in their stay at the hospital and sometimes pass away a day later after the consult was put in. We can do better than that to ensure patients are living the way they want to!!

I came across an article in a critical care newsletter called Estimates of the Need for Palliative Care Consultation across United States Intensive Care Units Using a Trigger-based Model. It said 1 in 7 patients need palliative care and that there are 5 triggers that indicate the patient has a poor prognosis and the healthcare team should put in a consult. It will give the patient and the family members more support and help guide them through difficult decisions. Here are the 5 triggers:

  1. ICU admission after hospital length of stay of at least 10 days
  2. failure of three or more organ systems
  3. stage IV malignancy
  4. status after cardiac arrest
  5. intracerebral hemorrhage requiring mechanical ventilation