Context: In the U.S., patients with advanced cancer who are dehydrated or have decreased oral intake almost always receive parenteral hydration in acute care facilities but rarely in the hospice setting.
Objectives: To describe the meaning of hydration for terminally ill cancer patients in home hospice care and for their primary caregivers.
Methods: Phenomenological interviews were conducted at two time points with 85 patients and 84 caregivers enrolled in a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial examining the efficacy of parenteral hydration in patients with advanced cancer receiving hospice care in the southern U.S. Transcripts were analyzed hermeneutically by the interdisciplinary research team until consensus on the theme labels was reached.
Results: Patients and their family caregivers saw hydration as meaning hope and comfort. Hope was the view that hydration might prolong a life of dignity and enhance quality of life by reducing symptoms such as fatigue and increasing patients' alertness. Patients and caregivers also described hydration as improving patients' comfort by reducing pain; enhancing the effectiveness of pain medication; and nourishing the body, mind, and spirit.
Conclusion: These findings differ from traditional hospice beliefs that dehydration enhances patient comfort, given that patients and their families in the study viewed fluids as enhancing comfort, dignity, and quality of life. Discussion with patients and families about their preferences for hydration may help tailor care plans to meet specific patient needs.
Copyright © 2012 U.S. Cancer Pain Relief Committee. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.