Aims. To critically examine the nursing care offered to older people who have been delirious. Background. Delirium occurs as a result of physiological imbalances resulting in an alteration in consciousness and cognitive impairment. Delirium is a prevalent and serious cognitive disorder experienced by older people. While there is a vast number of studies published utilizing quantitative methods, there remains a dearth of research relating to delirium in older people from a qualitative perspective. Design. A qualitative research design that utilized a critical gerontological framework underpinned this study. This framework drew on aspects of postmodernism and Foucault's understanding of discourse. Methods. Data sources included published documents on delirium, semi-structured taped interviews with people over the age of 65 years who had been delirious (as well as their clinical notes), family members, Registered Nurses and a hospital doctor. A postmodern discourse analytic approach was used to interrogate the 20 sets of data collected. Findings. Textual analysis revealed the presence of two major discourses impacting on being an older person with delirium. These were identified as a nursing discourse of delirium and a personal discourse of delirium. A nursing discourse of delirium was largely focussed on the biomedical processes that resulted in a delirious episode. Conversely, a personal discourse of delirium highlights that there are other ways of 'knowing' about delirium through considering the narratives of older adults, and their families, when offering a nursing service to this group of people. Relevance to clinical practice. Nursing needs to critically examine all aspects of nursing care as it applies to older people who have delirium to ensure the rhetorical claims of the profession become the reality for consumers of health services. The use of critical gerontology provides nurses with the tools to challenge the status quo and uncover the multiple, varied, contradictory and complex representations of delirium in older people. Inherent within a personal discourse of delirium is the importance of incorporating into nursing care communicative and other relational activities, such as forming and maintaining a therapeutic relationship.
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