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Discordance between the perceptions of clinicians and families about end-of-life trajectories in hospitalized dementia patients

, David W. Kissane, Fiona McDermott
Palliative and Supportive Care pp 1-8; doi:10.1017/s1478951521000109

Abstract: Background Due to the unpredictable dementia trajectory, it is challenging to recognize illness progression and the appropriateness of a palliative approach. Further confusion occurs during hospitalization where the presence of comorbid conditions complicates prognostication. This research examined clinicians and families' perceptions of dementia as a terminal condition in relation to end-of-life admissions. Context The study was based in the General Medicine units of one Australian public hospital. Medical, nursing, and social work clinicians were recruited to reflect multidisciplinary perspectives. Bereaved caregivers of deceased patients with dementia were interviewed 3 months following death. Methods Qualitative research underpinned by a social constructionist epistemology and framed through complex systems theory. Semi-structured interviews generated data that illuminated perceptions of deterioration observed toward the end of life. Results Although participants anticipated general cognitive and physical deterioration associated with dementia, the emergence of comorbid illness made it difficult to predict the onset of the end of life. During a hospital admission, clinicians attributed the end of life to the advanced outcomes of dementia, whereas families described new medical crises. End-of-life admissions illuminated intersections between dementia and comorbidities rather than illness progression. In contrast with the perception that people with dementia lose awareness at the end of life, families drew attention to evidence that their loved one was present during the dying phase. Significance of results Our findings challenge the dominant understanding of dementia trajectories. Bifurcations between clinicians and families' views demonstrate the difficulties in recognizing end-of-life transitions. Implications for the integration of palliative care are considered.
Keywords: Caregivers / Dementia / Hospitalization / Palliative care / Qualitative research / Terminal care

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