Patients in a persistent vegetative state attitudes and reactions of family members

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1991 Jan;39(1):17-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1991.tb05900.x.


Patients in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) constituted approximately 3% of the population in four Milwaukee nursing homes. In order to understand family members' attitudes and reactions toward such patients, 33 (92%) of 36 family members of patients in PVS contacted were studied. The age of the patients ranged from 19 to 95 with a mean age of 73.4 +/- 17.2 years, and family members' ages ranged from 41 to 89 with a mean age of 61.8 +/- 3.3 years. The etiology of the PVS varied from dementia to cerebral trauma. The mean duration of the PVS was 54 +/- 8.4 months (range 12 to 204). Family members reported that they visited patients 260 times during the first year following the onset of the PVS and were still visiting at a rate of 209 visits yearly at the time of the interview. There was no significant correlation between the frequency of the family members visits and the duration of the PVS, the patient's or family member's age, or the family member's relationship to the patient. Ninety percent of patients were considered by family members to have some awareness of pain, light or darkness, environment, taste, verbal conversation, or the family member's presence. Most family members thought they understood the patient's medical condition, and the majority did not expect the patient to improve. Nevertheless, the majority of family members wanted the patient to undergo therapeutic interventions, including transfer to the acute hospital and surgery.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anger
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Awareness
  • Coma / etiology
  • Coma / physiopathology
  • Coma / therapy*
  • Comprehension*
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Decision Making
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Homes for the Aged
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Homes
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Set, Psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Wisconsin
  • Withholding Treatment