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People with dementia may benefit from palliative care which specifically addresses the needs of patients and families affected by this life-limiting disease. On behalf of the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC), we recently performed a Delphi study to define domains for palliative care in dementia and to provide recommendations for optimal care. An international panel of experts in palliative care, dementia care or both, achieved consensus on almost all domains and recommendations, but the domain concerning the applicability of palliative care to dementia required revision.
To examine in detail, the opinions of the international panel of 64 experts around the applicability of palliative care, we explored feedback they provided in the Delphi process. To examine which experts found it less important or less applicable, ordinal regression analyses related characteristics of the panelists to ratings of overall importance of the applicability domain, and to agreement with the domain's four recommendations.
Some experts expressed concerns about bringing up end-of-life issues prematurely and about relabeling dementia care as palliative care. Multivariable analyses with the two outcomes of importance and agreement with applicability indicated that younger or less experienced experts and those whose expertise was predominantly in dementia care found palliative care in dementia less important and less applicable.
Benefits of palliative care in dementia are acknowledged by experts worldwide, but there is some controversy around its early introduction. Further studies should weigh concerns expressed around care receiving a “palliative” label versus the benefits of applying palliative care early.
Dementia involves a progressive decline in many functional areas. Policy and practice guidelines should cover the entire course of the disease from early detection to the end-of-life. The present study aimed to evaluate the contents of national dementia strategies with a focus on palliative care content.
We employed qualitative content analyses. Sixteen national dementia strategies from 14 countries were reviewed. Using open coding, the contents were compared to the domains and recommendations of the palliative care in dementia white paper of the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC).
Although palliative care was not explicitly referred to in eight of the 14 countries and only to a limited extent in three countries, a number of domains from the EAPC white paper were well represented, including “person-centered care, communication, and shared decision making”; “continuity of care”; and “family care and involvement.” Three countries that referred to palliative care did so explicitly, with two domains being well represented: “education of the health care team”; and “societal and ethical issues.” The strategies all lacked reference to the domain of “prognostication and timely recognition of dying” and to spiritual caregiving.
National dementia strategies cover part of the recent definition of palliative care in dementia, although they do not frequently label these references as “palliative care.” In view of the growing numbers of people dying with dementia, preparation for the last phase of life should be added to national strategies.
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