Awareness of dementia by family carers of nursing home residents dying with dementia: A post-death study

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Abstract

Background:

High-quality palliative care for people with dementia should be patient-centered, family-focused, and include well-informed and shared decision-making, as affirmed in a recent white paper on dementia from the European Association for Palliative Care.

Aim:

To describe how often family carers of nursing home residents who died with dementia are aware that their relative has dementia, and study resident, family carer, and care characteristics associated with awareness.

Design:

Post-death study using random cluster sampling.

Setting/participants:

Structured questionnaires were completed by family carers, nursing staff, and general practitioners of deceased nursing home residents with dementia in Flanders, Belgium (2010).

Results:

Of 190 residents who died with dementia, 53.2% of family carers responded. In 28% of cases, family carers indicated they were unaware their relative had dementia. Awareness by family carers was related to more advanced stages of dementia 1 month before death (odds ratio = 5.4), with 48% of family carers being unaware when dementia was mild and 20% unaware when dementia was advanced. The longer the onset of dementia after admission to a nursing home, the less likely family carers were aware (odds ratio = 0.94).

Conclusion:

Family carers are often unaware that their relative has dementia, that is, in one-fourth of cases of dementia and one-fifth of advanced dementia, posing considerable challenges for optimal care provision and end-of-life decision-making. Considering that family carers of residents who develop dementia later after admission to a nursing home are less likely to be aware, there is room for improving communication strategies toward family carers of nursing home residents.

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