August 24, 2007 / 6:38 PM / 12 years ago

Many families happy with dementia care at hospices

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Most families of dementia patients who receive end-of-life care at a hospice are satisfied with the experience, a new study suggests.

Using survey data from 796 U.S. hospices, researchers found that families of dementia patients were as likely as cancer patients’ families to be happy with the care their loved one received. In both cases, roughly three quarters of families rated the care as “excellent.”

Hospices provide terminally ill patients with palliative care, which aims to lessen physical and emotional symptoms and make people comfortable at the end of life. Hospice care was originally designed for people with terminal cancer, and a number of studies have shown that both patients and their families benefit from such end-of-life care.

Whether the same is true of dementia patients and their families is not known. One reason is that few dementia patients ever enter a hospice, despite the fact that Alzheimer’s disease is one of the leading causes of death among Americans older than 65.

It’s estimated that only 1 in 10 people dying with dementia receive hospice care, said the lead author of the new study, according to Dr. Susan L. Mitchell of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

“Given the large and growing number of Americans dying with dementia, this number should be higher,” Mitchell told Reuters Health. She and her colleagues report their findings in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

The results are based on surveys of families who had a relative cared for at one of 796 hospices nationwide. Within three months of a patient’s death, the family was sent a survey on the quality of care at the hospice - including whether they felt they’d been kept well-informed of their loved one’s condition, and whether the patient’s physical symptoms and emotional needs had been well addressed.

Overall, families of dementia patients were about as likely as families of cancer patients to give high ratings to their hospice. Seventy-three percent and 78 percent, respectively, described the care as “excellent.”

Research has already shown that hospice care can benefit patients dying with dementia, Mitchell and her colleagues note. These findings further that work, they add, by showing that families’ satisfaction with the care is also frequently high.

“Our study strongly supports efforts towards improving access to hospice services for this population,” Mitchell said.

SOURCE: Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, July 2007.

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