Reliability of health-related quality-of-life assessments made by older adults and significant others for health states of increasing cognitive impairment
When patients with severe dementia become acutely ill, little is known about the extent to which physicians take actions intended to hasten death. For 143 nursing home patients with dementia who died of pneumonia after a decision not to treat with antibiotics, we asked Dutch facility-employed physicians whether they intended to hasten death and any estimated life shortening. In 53% of cases, the physicians reported an explicit intention to hasten death; in another 41% of cases they reported taking into account a probability or certainty that the withholding of antibiotics or other palliative treatments would hasten death. Opiates were frequently used for symptom control (43%), but the administration of medications specifically intended to induce death was rare (2%). Considering all treatments, physicians estimated that life was shortened by 24 hours or less in 46% of patients and 1 month or longer in 24% of patients. The frequent withholding of antibiotics with an intention to hasten death may reflect a willingness to abandon a cure-oriented approach in dying patients for whom prolongation of life is not an aim. The results reflect the importance of explicit goals for medical interventions in patients with end-stage dementia where life-prolonging treatments may be seen as prolonging suffering.