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Children experience frightening hallucinations in PICU

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Nearly a third of children in paediatric intensive care units (PICUs) experience delusional memories including disturbing hallucinations, according to a study.

Results from the UK study were taken from interviews with 102 children aged between seven and 17 years, conducted three months after discharge from PICU at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Of those interviews, 63% reported some factual memory of their PICU admission.

But 33 children reported delusional memories, with only two experiencing positive feelings. In all other cases the memories were highly disturbing, with persistent threatening content.

One boy aged seven reported seeing a monster who wanted to eat him, a girl aged 14 reported seeing a bleeding cat in the ceiling and a nine-year old boy said he remembered being chased into a mass of hornets, desert beetles, scorpions and bees.

Those reporting delusional memories were three times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress.

Authors write: ‘The frequency with which these phenomena were reported in this study suggests that there is a need to educate staff about this aspect of PICU experience and to provide routine explanation to families.’

American Journal of Critical Care Medicine (2008)

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