Public has mixed views about end-of-life care for those with dementia

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Support exists for both life-sustaining interventions and for measures to enable peaceful death for those with dementia and other progressive neurologic illnesses, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.

The study of 2,000 residents of the United States and the United Kingdom found that one in six people believes that measures must be taken to sustain life at any cost even when a person is in the final stages of an illness such as dementia. More than twice as many study participants, however, said they would request measures to enable them to die peacefully at this stage.

Two factors increased the likelihood of respondents expressing a preference for a peaceful death, according to the University of Cambridge researchers who conducted the study: older age and personal or professional experience of similar illness. This finding, they said, may indicate generational differences in attitudes to end of life care or that people's views shift as they witness family and friends aging and dying.

The study highlights the challenges faced by those providing care and by legislators, said the investigators, who noted that the issue is “complex.”

“The challenge for legislators is to enact legal frameworks that enable these diverse views and preferences to be respected,” senior author Stephen Barclay, M.D., said. “The challenge for health and social care professionals is to ensure optimal palliative and end-of-life care provision for all in accordance with their wishes and preferences.”

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