The implausibility of response shifts in dementia patients

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Abstract

Dementia patients may express wishes that do not conform to or contradict earlier expressed preferences. Our understanding of the difference between their prior preferences and current wishes has important consequences for the way we deal with advance directives. Some bioethicists and gerontologists have argued that dementia patients change because they undergo a ‘response shift’. In this paper we question this assumption. We will show that proponents of the response shift use the term imprecisely and that response shift is not the right model to explain what happens to dementia patients. We propose a different explanation for the changed wishes of dementia patients and conclude that advance directives of dementia patients cannot be simply put aside.

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