Sedation and delirium in the intensive care unit: An Australian and New Zealand perspective

Y. Shehabi*, J. A. Botha, M. S. Boyle, D. Ernest, R. C. Freebairn, I. R. Jenkins, B. L. Roberts, I. M. Seppelt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


A survey was conducted to determine sedation and delirium practices in Australian and New Zealand intensive care units. The survey was in two parts, comprising an online survey of reported sedation and delirium management (unit survey) and a collection of de-identified data about each patient in a unit at a given time on a specified day (patient snapshot survey). All intensive care units throughout Australia and New Zealand were invited by email to participate in the survey. Twenty-three predominantly metropolitan, level III Australian and New Zealand intensive care units treating adult patients participated. Written sedation policies were in place in 48% of units, while an additional 44% of units reported having informal sedation policies. Seventy percent of units routinely used a sedation scale. In contrast, only 9% of units routinely used a delirium scale. Continuous intravenous infusion is the primary means of patient sedation (74% of units). While 30% of units reported routinely interrupting sedation, only 10% of sedated patients in the snapshot survey had had their sedation interrupted in the preceding 12 hours. Oversedation appears to be common (46% of patients with completed sedation scales). Use of neuromuscular blockade is low (10%) compared to other published studies. Midazolam and propofol were the most frequently used sedatives. The proportion of patients developing delirium was 21% of assessable patients. Failed and self-extubation rates were low: 3.2% and 0.5% respectively. In Australian and New Zealand intensive care units, routine use of sedation scales is common but not universal, while routine delirium assessment is rare. The use of a sedation protocol is valuable and should be encouraged.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)570-578
Number of pages9
JournalAnaesthesia and Intensive Care
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008


  • Australia
  • Delirium
  • Health care survey
  • Intensive care units
  • New Zealand
  • Sedatives


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