Perceptions of Home Health Nurses Regarding Suffering, Artificial Nutrition, and Hydration in Late-Stage Dementia

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to explore perceptions of home healthcare nurses related to suffering, artificial nutrition and hydration in people with late-stage dementia, and if these perceptions influence care to people with dementia and their families. Part of a mixed-methods study, the qualitative portion examined perceptions of home healthcare nurses in a rural area in the southern United States. Seventeen home healthcare nurses participated in this study. Semistructured focus group interview questions were used. Constant comparative analysis was the method used for coding transcripts. Three themes emerged from the analysis: patient/family comfort, futility, and symbols of suffering. Although many of the nurses reported that artificial nutrition and hydration was of comfort to the patient and family because of the potential for “starving,” they also felt it prolonged the patient's suffering due to the invasive procedure, need for restraints, and possibility of fluid overload. Several nurses felt that artificial nutrition and hydration gave a sense of false hope to the family that the patient would live longer. The perceptions of these home healthcare nurses influence their care to people with dementia and their families related to artificial nutrition and hydration, possibly based on experience. Their perceptions could influence family decisions regarding treatment options. Further research and education with home healthcare nurses is vital to ensure nurses are appropriately caring for patients with dementia and their families.

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