End-of-life dreams and visions: a longitudinal study of hospice patients' experiences

J Palliat Med. 2014 Mar;17(3):296-303. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2013.0371. Epub 2014 Jan 11.

Abstract

Background: End-of-life dreams and visions (ELDVs) have been well documented throughout history and across cultures. The impact of pre-death experiences on dying individuals and their loved ones can be profoundly meaningful.

Objective: Our aim was to quantify the frequency of dreams/visions experienced by patients nearing the end of life, examine the content and subjective significance of the dreams/visions, and explore the relationship of these factors to time/proximity to death.

Methods: This mixed-methods study surveyed patients in a hospice inpatient unit using a semi-structured interview. Sixty-six patients admitted to a hospice inpatient unit between January 2011 and July 2012 provided informed consent and participated in the study. The semi-structured interviews contained closed and open-ended questions regarding the content, frequency, and comfort/distress of dreams/visions.

Results: Fifty-nine participants comprised the final sample. Most participants reported experiencing at least one dream/vision. Almost half of the dreams/visions occurred while asleep, and nearly all patients indicated that they felt real. The most common dreams/visions included deceased friends/relatives and living friends/relatives. Dreams/visions featuring the deceased (friends, relatives, and animals/pets) were significantly more comforting than those of the living, living and deceased combined, and other people and experiences. As participants approached death, comforting dreams/visions of the deceased became more prevalent.

Conclusions: ELDVs are commonly experienced phenomena during the dying process, characterized by a consistent sense of realism and marked emotional significance. These dreams/visions may be a profound source of potential meaning and comfort for the dying, and therefore warrant clinical attention and further research.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Dreams / psychology*
  • Female
  • Hospice Care*
  • Hospices
  • Hospital Units
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Qualitative Research
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminally Ill / psychology*