A qualitative study exploring the difficulties influencing decision making at the end of life for people with dementia

Health Expect. 2018 Feb;21(1):118-127. doi: 10.1111/hex.12593. Epub 2017 Jun 22.


Background: Dementia is a progressive neurodegenerative condition characterized by declining functional and cognitive abilities. The quality of end of life care for people with dementia in the UK can be poor. Several difficult decisions may arise at the end of life, relating to the care of the person with dementia, for example management of comorbidities.

Objective: To explore difficulties in decision making for practitioners and family carers at the end of life for people with dementia.

Design: Qualitative methodology using focus groups and semi-structured interviews and thematic analysis methods.

Settings and participants: Former (n=4) and current (n=6) family carers of people with experience of end of life care for a person with dementia were recruited from an English dementia voluntary group in 2015. A further 24 health and care professionals were purposively sampled to include a broad range of expertise and experience in dementia end of life care.

Results: Four key themes were identified as follows: challenges of delivering coherent care in dynamic systems; uncertainty amongst decision makers; internal and external conflict amongst decision makers; and a lack of preparedness for the end of life. Overarching difficulties such as poor communication, uncertainty and conflict about the needs of the person with dementia as well as the decision maker's own role can characterize decision making at the end of life.

Conclusions: This study suggests that decision making at the end of life for people with dementia has the potential to be improved. More planning earlier in the course of dementia with an on-going approach to conversation may increase preparedness and family carers' expectations of end of life.

Keywords: decision-making; dementia; end-of-life; family caregivers; palliative care; qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Decision Making*
  • Dementia / mortality*
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Qualitative Research
  • Terminal Care*
  • Uncertainty
  • United Kingdom