Studies of patients who are terminally ill consistently identify strong associations between "sense of burden to others" and marked end-of-life distress. However, little research has addressed the issue of burden to others among patients nearing death. The aim of this study was to carefully examine "burden to others" and clarify its relationship with various psychosocial, physical, and existential issues arising in patients who are terminally ill. A cohort of 211 patients with end-stage cancer was assessed, using an assortment of validated psychometrics to document psychosocial, physical, and existential aspects of their end-of-life experience. This included an assessment of their sense of "burden to others." Forty percent of participants indicated a negligible sense of burden to others, scoring within the lowest quarter on an ordinal measure of "burden to others;" 25% scored within the second lowest quarter; 12% within the third quarter; and 23% within the highest or most severe range. The most highly correlated variables with "sense of burden to others" included depression (r=0.460; df=201, P
Department of Family Medicine, Section of Palliative Medicine, University of Manitoba, and Palliative Care Program, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, St. Boniface General Hospital, A8024-409 Tache Ave. Winnipeg, Manibota, Canada. firstname.lastname@example.org
A pilot study compiled data from six palliative care centres across Canada to assess the feasibility of developing a national surveillance system.
Data provided for the three-year period between 1993-1997 were combined into a comparative minimum data set. Analyses included 6,369 care episodes from five centres, plus 948 patients from one centre.
Care was provided in various settings including acute care wards, dedicated palliative care units, tertiary care, chronic care, and at home. Palliative care patients comprised equal numbers of men and women, with a median age of 69 years; 92% had cancer diagnoses. Median length of stay (LOS) for each care episode was 13 days, increasing to 40-43 days for a patient's entire time in care. LOS varied greatly, by care setting, from seven days (dedicated unit), to 19 days (tertiary unit), 37 days (home), and 54 days (chronic care). Our findings are similar to those reported from national surveys in Australia and the United Kingdom.
This study generated useful baseline data and identified key issues requiring resolution before establishing a national surveillance system, including the need to track patients across care settings.
Considerations of dignity are often raised in reference to the care of dying patients. However, little research that addresses this issue has been done. Our aim was to identify the extent to which dying patients perceive they are able to maintain a sense of dignity, and to ascertain how demographic and disease-specific variables relate to the issue of dignity in these individuals.
We did a cross-sectional study of a cohort of terminally ill patients with cancer, who had a life expectancy of less than 6 months. We enrolled 213 patients from two palliative care units in Winnipeg, Canada, and asked them to rate their sense of dignity. Our main outcome measures included: a 7-point sense of dignity item; the symptom distress scale; the McGill pain questionnaire; the index of independence in activities of daily living (IADL); a quality of life scale; a brief battery of self-report measures, including screening for desire for death, anxiety, hopelessness, and will to live; burden to others; and requirement for social support.
16 of 213 patients (7.5%; 95% CI 4-11) indicated that loss of dignity was a great concern. These patients were far more than likely than the rest of the cohort to report psychological distress and symptom distress, heightened dependency needs, and loss of will to live.
Loss of dignity is closely associated with certain types of distress often seen among the terminally ill. Preservation of dignity should be an overall aim of treatment and care in patients who are nearing death.
Comment In: Lancet. 2002 Dec 21-28;360(9350):1997-812504390
Comment In: Lancet. 2003 Mar 1;361(9359):78312620760
Despite use of the term dignity in arguments for and against a patient's self-governance in matters pertaining to death, there is little empirical research on how this term has been used by patients who are nearing death. The objective of this study was to determine how dying patients understand and define the term dignity, in order to develop a model of dignity in the terminally ill. A semi-structured interview was designed to explore how patients cope with their advanced cancer and to detail their perceptions of dignity. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. A consecutive sample of 50 consenting patients with advanced terminal cancer were recruited over a 15-month period of time from an urban extended care hospital housing a specialized unit for palliative care. This unit provides both inpatient services. and coordinates end-of-life care community based programming. Data were analysed using latent content analysis and constant comparison techniques. Four members of the research team independently coded the transcribed data, to develop conceptually meaningful categories of responses. Operational definitions were written for major categories, themes and sub-themes. Three major categories emerged from the qualitative analysis, including illness-related concerns; dignity conserving repertoire; and social dignity inventory. These broad categories and their carefully defined themes and sub-themes form the foundation for an emerging model of dignity amongst the dying. The concept of dignity and the dignity model offer a way of understanding how patients face advancing terminal illness. This will serve to promote dignity and the quality of life of patients nearing death.
The purpose of this study was to assess the feasibility of dignity therapy for the frail elderly.
Participants were recruited from personal care units contained within a large rehabilitation and long-term care facility in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Two groups of participants were identified; residents who were cognitively able to directly take part in dignity therapy, and residents who, because of cognitive impairment, required that family member(s) take part in dignity therapy on their behalf. Qualitative and quantitative methods were applied in determining responses to dignity therapy from direct participants, proxy participants, and healthcare providers (HCPs).
Twelve cognitively intact residents completed dignity therapy; 11 cognitively impaired residents were represented in the study by way of family member proxies. The majority of cognitively intact residents found dignity therapy to be helpful; the majority of proxy participants indicated that dignity therapy would be helpful to them and their families. In both groups, HCPs reported the benefits of dignity therapy in terms of changing the way they perceived the resident, teaching them things about the resident they did not previously know; the vast majority indicated that they would recommend it for other residents and their families.
This study introduces evidence that dignity therapy has a role to play among the frail elderly. It also suggests that whether residents take part directly or by way of family proxies, the acquired benefits--and the effects on healthcare staff--make this area one meriting further study.
This study examined a novel intervention, dignity therapy, designed to address psychosocial and existential distress among terminally ill patients. Dignity therapy invites patients to discuss issues that matter most or that they would most want remembered. Sessions are transcribed and edited, with a returned final version that they can bequeath to a friend or family member. The objective of this study was to establish the feasibility of dignity therapy and determine its impact on various measures of psychosocial and existential distress.
Terminally ill inpatients and those receiving home-based palliative care services in Winnipeg, Canada, and Perth, Australia, were asked to complete pre- and post-intervention measures of sense of dignity, depression, suffering, and hopelessness; sense of purpose, sense of meaning, desire for death, will to live, and suicidality; and a post-intervention satisfaction survey.
Ninety-one percent of participants reported being satisfied with dignity therapy; 76% reported a heightened sense of dignity; 68% reported an increased sense of purpose; 67% reported a heightened sense of meaning; 47% reported an increased will to live; and 81% reported that it had been or would be of help to their family. Post-intervention measures of suffering showed significant improvement (P = .023) and reduced depressive symptoms (P = .05). Finding dignity therapy helpful to their family correlated with life feeling more meaningful (r = 0.480; P = .000) and having a sense of purpose (r = 0.562; P = .000), accompanied by a lessened sense of suffering (r = 0.327; P = .001) and increased will to live (r = 0.387; P = .000).
Dignity therapy shows promise as a novel therapeutic intervention for suffering and distress at the end of life.
Comment In: J Clin Oncol. 2005 Aug 20;23(24):5427-816110001
We recently completed a grounded theory study examining nutritional care experiences in advanced cancer from the perspective of patients (n=13), families (n=23), and health care providers (n=11) (1). That work generated important information about adult family members' perceptions and behaviour regarding the nutritional care their terminally ill adult relative received while hospitalized on an inpatient palliative care unit. An overview of the inductively derived model that emerged from that work has been reported elsewhere (2). This article provides a more detailed description of one of the major sub-processes of the model regarding family member responses to declining oral intake and weight loss in a terminally ill relative-the sub-process of "fighting back: it's best to eat." The strategies family members use when fighting back, and the consequences of these strategies for patients, family members, and health care providers are reported. Implications for practice and research are provided.
Quality palliative care depends on a deep understanding of distress facing patients nearing death. Yet, many aspects of psychosocial, existential and spiritual distress are often overlooked. The aim of this study was to test a novel psychometric--the Patient Dignity Inventory (PDI)--designed to measure various sources of dignity-related distress among patients nearing the end of life. Using standard instrument development techniques, this study examined the face validity, internal consistency, test-retest reliability, factor structure and concurrent validity of the PDI. The 25-items of the PDI derive from a model of dignity in the terminally ill. To establish its basic psychometric properties, the PDI was administered to 253 patients receiving palliative care, along with other measures addressing issues identified within the Dignity Model in the Terminally Ill. Cronbach's coefficient alpha for the PDI was 0.93; the test-retest reliability was r = 0.85. Factor analysis resulted in a five-factor solution; factor labels include Symptom Distress, Existential Distress, Dependency, Peace of Mind, and Social Support, accounting for 58% of the overall variance. Evidence for concurrent validity was reported by way of significant associations between PDI factors and concurrent measures of distress. The PDI is a valid and reliable new instrument, which could assist clinicians to routinely detect end-of-life dignity-related distress. Identifying these sources of distress is a critical step toward understanding human suffering and should help clinicians deliver quality, dignity-conserving end-of-life care.
The influence of personality characteristics on how patients cope with various challenges at the end of life has not been extensively studied. In order to examine the association between end-of-life experience and neuroticism (defined within the personality literature as a trait tendency to experience psychological distress), a measure of neuroticism was administered to a cohort of dying cancer patients. Various other measures of physical, psychological, and existential distress were also measured to explore their possible connection to patient personality style. The personality characteristic neuroticism demonstrated a significant relationship with several end-of-life sources of distress, including depression, anxiety, sense of dignity, quality of life (rating and satisfaction), hopelessness, concentration, and outlook on the future. Neuroticism appears to have a significant association with the dying experience. This association is expressed across the psychological, existential and, to a lesser extent, physical and social domains of end-of-life distress. This may help clinicians identify vulnerable individuals who are most likely to have poorer adjustments and may benefit from earlier targeted interventional approaches. Exploring the relationship between various facets of personality and end-of-life distress, and mapping this information against optimal therapeutic responses, remains the challenge for future research broaching this intriguing and largely ignored area of palliative care.