The use of non-invasive ventilation at end of life in patients with motor neurone disease: a qualitative exploration of family carer and health professional experiences

Palliat Med. 2013 Jun;27(6):516-23. doi: 10.1177/0269216313478449. Epub 2013 Mar 5.


Background: Non-invasive ventilation improves quality and quantity of life in patients with motor neurone disease who have respiratory failure. Use of non-invasive ventilation may, however, result in complex clinical issues for end-of-life care, with concerns as to whether and how it should be withdrawn.

Aim: This study aimed to describe carer and health professional experiences of end-of-life care of motor neurone disease patients using non-invasive ventilation.

Design/participants: This article reports data from qualitative interviews with family carers and professionals following the death of patients with motor neurone disease who were using non-invasive ventilation in the final phase of the disease.

Results: Ten of the 20 patients initiated on non-invasive ventilation were using it in the end-of-life phase of their disease, with 5 using it for 24 h/day. Interviews were carried out with nine family carers and 15 professionals. Nine recurring themes were identified in the data. Both carers and health-care professionals perceived that the terminal phase of motor neurone disease was unexpectedly rapid and that this often led to unplanned interactions with the emergency services. Carers of patients who used non-invasive ventilation perceived non-invasive ventilation as aiding patient comfort and anxiety at the end of life.

Conclusions: The use of non-invasive ventilation was described as beneficial and was not perceived by carers or most professionals to have adversely impacted patient's end-of-life experience. This study highlights variation in patient wishes regarding usage towards the end of life, uncertainty regarding appropriate management among professionals and the importance of disseminating end-of-life wishes.

Keywords: Motor neurone disease; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; end-of-life care; non-invasive ventilation; qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neuron Disease / complications*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life
  • Respiration, Artificial / methods*
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / etiology
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / therapy*
  • Terminal Care / methods*