With the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an influx of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), an inflammatory lung condition. ARDS survivors are at high risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to intensive care unit (ICU) medical treatments/procedures. They are known to have traumatic memories triggered by their sensorium months to years after being discharged from the ICU. One study found that 23% of ARDS survivors experienced long-term PTSD symptoms 2-3 years after hospital discharge (Bienvenu et al., 2018). Unknown is whether there are similarities in the memories and sensory triggers of PTSD amongst ARDS and COVID ARDS survivors.


The purpose of this study was to 1) identify the most common vivid ICU memories and sensory triggers for PTSD symptoms in survivors of ARDS and COVID positive ARDS; 2) to analyze the frequency of sensory triggers and determine whether differences exist between ARDS and COVID ARDS survivors.


A multi-step, thematic analysis of qualitative data from 27 patients was completed (20 COVID ARDS patients and 7 ARDS patients) by a team of 7 researchers. Patients were asked a series of open-ended questions regarding vivid memories and sensory triggers for them. Major themes were generated from their responses.


Major themes identified were prevalent in both COVID ARDS and ARDS groups. Prominent vivid memories included medical treatment/procedures, emergence delirium, illusions/hallucinations, vivid nonsense dreams and sensory to dream conversion. Common sensory triggers included seeing medical equipment, hearing beeping/alarms, seeing media depictions of the hospital setting, hospital smells and seeing doctors, nurses, hospitals. Differences between COVID-ARDS and ARDS groups were not notable.


The data collected in this study revealed ARDS and COVID ARDS patients experience sensory inputs during their ICU stay that contribute to the development of vivid, long-lasting memories and subsequent PTSD symptoms. Survivors' everyday lives are altered by these symptoms, impacting their ability to work, familial relationships, and likelihood to seek out healthcare. Data from this study is being used in a compressed exposure therapy trial and should be incorporated into future PTSD preventative and treatment interventions.

Thesis Completion




Thesis Chair/Advisor

Peach, Brian


Duckworth, Nancy


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Nursing



Access Status

Open Access

Release Date