Spiritual end-of-life care in Dutch nursing homes: an ethnographic study

J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013 Sep;14(9):679-84. doi: 10.1016/j.jamda.2013.04.001. Epub 2013 May 20.


Objectives: The aim of this study was to explore if and how spiritual needs are assessed and if spiritual care is provided to Dutch nursing home residents, including residents suffering from dementia, and if and how caregivers communicate and collaborate regarding the residents' spiritual needs.

Design: Two researchers conducted an ethnographic participatory study in a Dutch nursing home between April 2010 and June 2011, on a psychogeriatric unit (mostly dementia) and a somatic unit for residents suffering from physical disabilities. Inductive thematic analysis was used to identify patterns and trends and to interpret the data.

Results: The physicians did not actively address spiritual issues, nor was it part of the official job of care staff. There was no communication between the physicians and the spiritual counselor. When a resident was about to die, the nurses started an informal care process aimed at (spiritual) well-being, including cuddling, rituals, and music. This was not mentioned in the care plan or the medical chart. The nurses even supported the residents outside their professional role in their spare time. Furthermore, we identified different occupational subcultures (eg, nurses and physicians), in which behavior of residents was given different meaning, depending on the frame of reference within the subculture.

Conclusion: Spiritual issues were addressed only informally and were not part of the formal care process, either for residents suffering from dementia or for those with physical disabilities. Our results raise questions about how the lack of communication about spiritual end-of-life care between disciplines, and the informal and formal care processes affect spiritual well-being.

Keywords: Nursing home; end of life; qualitative research; spirituality.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Disabled Persons
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Nursing Homes*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Spirituality*
  • Terminal Care*