Perspectives on care at the close of life. Psychological considerations, growth, and transcendence at the end of life: the art of the possible

JAMA. 2001 Jun 13;285(22):2898-905. doi: 10.1001/jama.285.22.2898.


Patients with life-threatening illnesses face great psychological challenges and frequently experience emotional distress. Yet, the end of life also offers opportunities for personal growth and the deepening of relationships. When physical symptoms and suffering are controlled, it is easier to address patients' central concerns-about their families, about their own psychological integrity, and about finding meaning in their lives. Optimal end-of-life care requires a willingness to engage with the patient and family in addressing these distinct domains. In addition to supporting growth of patients and their caregivers, physicians need to recognize the impact of psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and delirium at the end of life and develop skills in diagnosing and treating these syndromes. Comments of a patient with pancreatic cancer, his son, and his physician help illuminate the potential opportunities presented when coping with life-threatening illness. Enhanced understanding of the common psychological concerns of patients with serious illness can improve not only the clinical care of the patient, but also the physician's sense of satisfaction and meaning in caring for the dying.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / psychology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / therapy
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Spirituality
  • Terminal Care / psychology
  • Terminally Ill / psychology*