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1.  Burden for family carers at the end of life; a mixed-method study of the perspectives of family carers and GPs 
BMC Palliative Care  2014;13:16.
Since many patients spend most of the time at home at the end of life, this may affect the burden for family carers and constitute a risk factor for the patients’ hospitalisation. This study aimed to explore family carers’ burden in the final three months of the patient’s life, from the perspective of both carers and general practitioners (GPs), and to assess whether family burden, as defined by the GP, is associated with hospitalisation.
A cross-sectional nationwide survey among GPs and family carers was performed. Participants were 194 GPs and 74 family carers of patients who died non-suddenly. Additionally, in-depth interviews were conducted with 18 family carers. For the quantitative analyses descriptive statistics, weighted Kappa and multivariate logistic regression analysis was performed. For the qualitative part thematic analysis was conducted.
The proportion of family carers experiencing a fairly heavy or severe burden increased significantly from 32% (second and third months before death) to 66% (one week before death). Most carers (95%) felt an emotional burden and 29% felt a physical burden in the final week. Three-quarters of carers did not perceive their burden as a problem because caring often felt rewarding. No significant association was found between the characteristics of family caregivers or professional care and the degree of family caregiver burden. Also, there was no significant evidence that patients of family carers for whom the GP assessed a fairly heavy to severe burden, were more likely to be hospitalised.
The different overall assessment of family carers’ burden between GPs and family carers and the increasing emotional and physical burden of family carers towards the end constitute relevant information for GPs that will help them understand and anticipate carers’ personal needs.
PMCID: PMC3974231  PMID: 24678941
Palliative care; General practitioner; Family carer; Burden; Hospitalisation; Mixed method
2.  Decision-making capacity and communication about care of older people during their last three months of life 
BMC Palliative Care  2013;12:1.
Limited decision-making capacity (DMC) of older people affects their abilities to communicate about their preferences regarding end-of-life care. In an advance directive (AD) people can write down preferences for (non)treatment or appoint a proxy as a representative in (non)treatment choices in case of limited DMC.
The aim is to study limited DMC during the end of life and compare the background, (satisfaction with) care and communication characteristics of people with and without limited DMC. Furthermore, the aim is to describe patient proxies’ opinions about experiences with the use of (appointed proxy) ADs.
Using a questionnaire, data were collected from proxies of participants of a representative sample of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (n=168) and a purposive sample of the Advance Directive cohort study (n=184). Differences between groups (with and without limited DMC, and/or with and without AD) were tested with chi-square tests, using a level of significance of p < 0.05.
At a month before death 27% of people had limited DMC; this increased to 67% of people having limited DMC in the last week of life. The care received was in accordance with the patient’s preferences for the majority of older people, although less often for people who had limited DMC for more than a week. The majority of the proxies were satisfied with the communication between physician and the patient and them, regardless of DMC of the patient. Of people with an AD, a small majority of relatives indicated that the AD had been of additional value. Finally, no differences were found in the role of the relative and the satisfaction with this role between people with and without a proxy AD.
Although relatives have positive experiences with ADs, our study does not provide strong evidence that (proxy) ADs are very influential in the last phase of life. They can best be seen as a tool for advance care planning.
PMCID: PMC3563577  PMID: 23305093
Decision-making capacity; End-of-life care; Older people; Advance directives; Appointed proxy
3.  Older patients’ attitudes towards and experiences of patient-physician end-of-life communication: a secondary analysis of interviews from British, Dutch and Belgian patients 
BMC Palliative Care  2012;11:24.
Older patients often experience sub-standard communication in the palliative phase of illness. Due to the importance of good communication in patient-centred end-of-life care, it is essential to understand the factors which influence older patients’ communication with physicians. This study examines older patients’ attitudes towards, and experiences of, patient-physician end-of-life (EoL) communication in three European countries.
A secondary analysis of interviews from British, Dutch and Belgian patients over the age of 60 with a progressive terminal illness was conducted. Cross-cutting themes were identified using a thematic approach.
Themes from 30 interviews (Male n = 20, Median age 78.5) included: confidence and trust; disclosure and awareness; and participation in decision-making. Confidence and trust were reinforced by physicians’ availability, time and genuine attention and hindered by misdiagnoses and poor communication style. Most participants preferred full disclosure, though some remained deliberately ill-informed to avoid distress. Patients expressed a variety of preferences for and experiences of involvement in medical EoL decision-making and a few complained that information was only provided about the physician's preferred treatment.
A variety of experiences and attitudes regarding disclosure and participation in decision-making were reported from each country, suggesting that communication preferences are highly individual. It is important that physicians are sensitive to this diversity and avoid stereotyping. In regard to communication style, physicians are advised to provide clear explanations, avoid jargon, and continually check understanding. Both the ‘informed’ and the ‘shared’ patient-physician decision-making models assume patients make rational choices based on a clear understanding of treatment options. This idealized situation was often not reflected in patients’ experiences.
PMCID: PMC3583811  PMID: 23186392
Palliative; End-of-life; Communication; Decision-making; Older patients; Qualitative
4.  The broad spectrum of unbearable suffering in end-of-life cancer studied in dutch primary care 
BMC Palliative Care  2012;11:12.
Unbearable suffering most frequently is reported in end-of-life cancer patients in primary care. However, research seldom addresses unbearable suffering. The aim of this study was to comprehensively investigate the various aspects of unbearable suffering in end-of-life cancer patients cared for in primary care.
Forty four general practitioners recruited end-of-life cancer patients with an estimated life expectancy of half a year or shorter. The inclusion period was three years, follow-up lasted one additional year. Practices were monitored bimonthly to identify new cases. Unbearable aspects in five domains and overall unbearable suffering were quantitatively assessed (5-point scale) through patient interviews every two months with a comprehensive instrument. Scores of 4 (serious) or 5 (hardly can be worse) were defined unbearable. The last interviews before death were analyzed. Sources providing strength to bear suffering were identified through additional open-ended questions.
Seventy six out of 148 patients (51%) requested to participate consented; the attrition rate was 8%, while 8% were alive at the end of follow-up. Sixty four patients were followed up until death; in 60 patients interviews were complete. Overall unbearable suffering occurred in 28%. A mean of 18 unbearable aspects was present in patients with serious (score 4) overall unbearable suffering. Overall, half of the unbearable aspects involved the domain of traditional medical symptoms. The most frequent unbearable aspects were weakness, general discomfort, tiredness, pain, loss of appetite and not sleeping well (25%-57%). The other half of the unbearable aspects involved the domains of function, personhood, environment, and nature and prognosis of disease. The most frequent unbearable aspects were impaired activities, feeling dependent, help needed with housekeeping, not being able to do important things, trouble accepting the situation, being bedridden and loss of control (27%-55%). The combination of love and support was the most frequent source (67%) providing strength to bear suffering.
Overall unbearable suffering occurred in one in every four end-of-life cancer patients. Half of the unbearable aspects involved medical symptoms, the other half concerned psychological, social and existential dimensions. Physicians need to comprehensively assess suffering and provide psychosocial interventions alongside physical symptom management.
PMCID: PMC3453495  PMID: 22853448
5.  The use of opioids at the end of life: the knowledge level of Dutch physicians as a potential barrier to effective pain management 
BMC Palliative Care  2010;9:23.
Pain is still one of the most frequently occurring symptoms at the end of life, although it can be treated satisfactorily in most cases if the physician has adequate knowledge. In the Netherlands, almost 60% of the patients with non-acute illnesses die at home where end of life care is coordinated by the general practitioner (GP); about 30% die in hospitals (cared for by clinical specialists), and about 10% in nursing homes (cared for by elderly care physicians).
The research question of this study is: what is the level of knowledge of Dutch physicians concerning pain management and the use of opioids at the end of life?
A written questionnaire was sent to a random sample of physicians of specialties most often involved in end of life care in the Netherlands. The questionnaire was completed by 406 physicians, response rate 41%.
Almost all physicians were aware of the most basal knowledge about opioids, e.g. that it is important for treatment purposes to distinguish nociceptive from neuropathic pain (97%). Approximately half of the physicians (46%) did not know that decreased renal function raises plasma concentration of morphine(-metabolites) and 34% of the clinical specialists erroneously thought opioids are the favoured drug for palliative sedation.
Although 91% knew that opioids titrated against pain do not shorten life, 10% sometimes or often gave higher dosages than needed with the explicit aim to hasten death. About half felt sometimes or often pressured by relatives to hasten death by increasing opioiddosage.
The large majority (83%) of physicians was interested in additional education about subjects related to the end of life, the most popular subject was opioid rotation (46%).
Although the basic knowledge of physicians was adequate, there seemed to be a lack of knowledge in several areas, which can be a barrier for good pain management at the end of life. From this study four areas emerge, in which it seems likely that an improvement can improve the quality of pain management at the end of life for many patients in the Netherlands: 1)palliative sedation; 2)expected effect of opioids on survival; and 3) opioid rotation.
PMCID: PMC3000381  PMID: 21073709
6.  Unbearability of suffering at the end of life: the development of a new measuring device, the SOS-V 
BMC Palliative Care  2009;8:16.
Unbearable suffering is an important issue in end-of-life decisions. However, there has been no systematic, prospective, patient-oriented research which has focused on unbearable suffering, nor is there a suitable measurement instrument. This article describes the methodological development of a quantitative instrument to measure the nature and intensity of unbearable suffering, practical aspects of its use in end-stage cancer patients in general practice, and studies content validity and psychometric properties.
Recognizing the conceptual difference between unbearability of suffering and extent or intensity of suffering, we developed an instrument. The compilation of aspects considered to be of importance was based on a literature search. Psychometric properties were determined on results of the first interviews with 64 end-stage cancer patients that participated in a longitudinal study in the Netherlands.
The instrument measures five domains: medical signs and symptoms, loss of function, personal aspects, aspects of environment, and nature and prognosis of the disease. Sixty nine aspects were investigated, and an overall score was asked. In 64 end-stage cancer patients the instrument was used in total 153 times with an average interview time varying from 20-40 minutes. Cronbachs alpha's of the subscales were in majority above 0.7. The sum scores of (sub)scales were correlated strongly to overall measures on suffering.
The SOS-V is an instrument for measuring the unbearability of suffering in end-stage cancer patients with good content validity and psychometric properties, which is feasible to be used in practice. This structured instrument makes it possible to identify and study unbearable suffering in a quantitative and patient-oriented way.
PMCID: PMC2777135  PMID: 19887004

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