Objectives: To gain insight into how advance directives for euthanasia affect resident care in Dutch nursing homes.
Design: Survey of elderly care physicians and additional qualitative interviews with a selection of elderly care physicians and relatives of people with dementia who had an advance directive for euthanasia.
Setting: Dutch nursing home practice.
Participants: Four hundred thirty-four elderly care physicians completed the general part of the questionnaire; 110 physicians provided case histories. Interviews were conducted with 11 physicians and eight relatives.
Measurements: The questionnaire contained general questions about the incidence of advance directives for euthanasia in people with dementia. A second part involved questions about the most recent case of a person with dementia and an advance directive for euthanasia who had died. The interviews with elderly care physicians and relatives focused on further exploration of the decision-making process regarding adherence to the advance directive for euthanasia.
Results: Despite law-based possibilities, advance directives for euthanasia of people with dementia were rarely adhered to, although they seem to have a supportive role in setting limitations on life-sustaining treatments. Elderly care physicians and relatives were found to be reluctant to adhere to advance directives for euthanasia. Not being able to engage in meaningful communication played a crucial role in this reluctance.
Conclusion: Advance directives for euthanasia are never adhered to in the Netherlands in the case of people with advanced dementia, and their role in advance care planning and end-of-life care of people with advanced dementia is limited. Communication with the patient is essential for elderly care physicians to consider adherence to an advance directive for euthanasia of a person with dementia.
© 2011, Copyright the Authors. Journal compilation © 2011, The American Geriatrics Society.