Attitudes of physicians, nurses and relatives towards end-of-life decisions concerning nursing home patients with dementia

Patient Educ Couns. 2006 Jun;61(3):372-80. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2005.04.016. Epub 2005 Jun 21.


Objective: For many nursing home patients in the advanced stages of dementia, a decision to start or forgo treatment has to be taken at the end of their life. It is very important for the peace of mind of all involved in such decision-making that there is agreement on which decision is in the best interest of the patient. It is thus important to investigate the attitude of physicians, nurses and relatives towards medical end-of-life decisions concerning patients with dementia, so that the policy in nursing homes can be tuned to stimulate dialogue and understanding between all parties.

Methods: Fifteen statements about artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH), advance directives, hastening death, self-determination and euthanasia, and nursing home policy were presented to physicians, nurses and relatives of nursing home patients suffering from dementia.

Results: In general, physicians, nurses and relatives agree on many aspects of end-of-life decision-making for nursing home patients with dementia. However, on some issues the outcomes of the decision-making may differ. Relatives attach more importance to advance directives than physicians, and have more permissive attitudes towards hastening death.

Conclusion: Although physicians, nurses and relatives are all guided by the best interest of the patient, it seems that differences in religious beliefs, perspective of the patient, and responsibility can lead to different attitudes towards end-of-life decisions.

Practice implications: Physicians should discuss end-of-life decisions more openly. Physicians should be aware of the influences on attitudes and incorporate them into communication about end-of-life decisions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Advance Directives / psychology
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Attitude to Death
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Communication
  • Decision Making*
  • Dementia / therapy*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Staff / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Nursing Homes / organization & administration
  • Nursing Staff / psychology
  • Nutritional Support
  • Organizational Policy
  • Physician's Role / psychology
  • Religion and Psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminal Care / organization & administration
  • Terminal Care / psychology*