In 2002, the Belgian Act on euthanasia came into effect, regulating the intentional ending of life by a physician at the patient’s explicit request. Subsequently, the number of reported euthanasia deaths increased every year. Specifically, the proportion of euthanasia deaths in older persons has risen significantly in the last few years. Since the conception of the Euthanasia Act, Belgian physicians have been confronted with challenges concerning euthanasia requests in older persons with polypathology, tiredness of life or dementia. By exploring these issues, this commentary highlights the importance of a meticulous and team-based assessment of the (i) seriousness of the underlying condition, (ii) voluntariness of the request and (iii) decisional capacity of the older person requesting euthanasia.
Background/objectives: Opioids relieve symptoms in terminal care. We studied opioid underuse in long-term care facilities, defined as residents without opioid prescription despite pain and/or dyspnoea, 3 days prior to death.
Design and setting: In a proportionally stratified randomly selected sample of long-term care facilities in six European Union countries, nurses and long-term care facility management completed structured after-death questionnaires within 3 months of residents’ death.
Measurements: Nurses assessed pain/dyspnoea with Comfort Assessment in Dying with Dementia scale and checked opioid prescription by chart review. We estimated opioid underuse per country and per symptom and calculated associations of opioid underuse by multilevel, multivariable analysis.
Results: nurses’ response rate was 81.6%, 95.7% for managers. Of 901 deceased residents with pain/dyspnoea reported in the last week, 10.6% had dyspnoea, 34.4% had pain and 55.0% had both symptoms. Opioid underuse per country was 19.2% (95% confidence interval: 12.9–27.2) in the Netherlands, 25.2% (18.3–33.6) in Belgium, 29.3% (16.9–45.8) in England, 33.7% (26.2–42.2) in Finland, 64.6% (52.0–75.4) in Italy and 79.1% (71.2–85.3) in Poland (p < 0.001). Opioid underuse was 57.2% (33.0–78.4) for dyspnoea, 41.2% (95% confidence interval: 21.9–63.8) for pain and 37.4% (19.4–59.6) for both symptoms (p = 0.013). Odds of opioid underuse were lower (odds ratio: 0.33; 95% confidence interval: 0.20–0.54) when pain was assessed.
Conclusion: Opioid underuse differs between countries. Pain and dyspnoea should be formally assessed at the end-of-life and taken into account in physicians orders.
CONTEXT: Symptom management is essential in the end of life care of long-term care facility residents.
OBJECTIVES: To study discrepancies and possible associated factors in staff and family carers' symptom assessment scores for residents in the last week of life.
METHODS: A post mortem survey in Belgium, the Netherlands and Finland: staff and family carers completed the "End-Of-Life in Dementia - Comfort Assessment in Dying" scale (EOLD-CAD), rating 14 symptoms on a 1 to 3-point scale. Higher scores reflect better comfort. We calculated mean paired differences in symptom, subscale and total scores at a group level and interrater agreement and percentage of perfect agreement at a resident level.
RESULTS: Mean staff scores significantly reflected better comfort than those of family carers for the total End-of-Life in Dementia—Comfort Assessment in Dying (31.61 vs. 29.81; P < 0.001) and the physical distress (8.64 vs. 7.62; P < 0.001) and dying symptoms (8.95 vs. 8.25; P < 0.001) subscales. No significant differences were found for emotional distress and well-being. The largest discrepancies were found for gurgling, discomfort, restlessness, and choking for which staff answered not at all, whereas the family carer answered a lot, in respectively, 9.5%, 7.3%, 6.7%, and 6.1% of cases. Inter-rater agreement ranged from 0.106 to 0.204, the extent of perfect agreement from 40.8 for lack of serenity to 68.7% for crying.
CONCLUSION: There is a need for improved communication between staff and family and discussion about symptom burden in the dying phase in long-term care facilities.
Objectives: We aimed to investigate the occurrence rates of clinical events and their associations with comfort in dying nursing home residents with and without dementia.
Methods: Epidemiological after-death survey was performed in nationwide representative samples of 322 nursing homes in Belgium, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and England. Nursing staff reported clinical events and assessed comfort. The nursing staff or physician assessed the presence of dementia; severity was determined using two highly discriminatory staff-reported instruments.
Results: The sample comprised 401 residents with advanced dementia, 377 with other stages of dementia, and 419 without dementia (N = 1197). Across the three groups, pneumonia occurred in 24 to 27% of residents. Febrile episodes (unrelated to pneumonia) occurred in 39% of residents with advanced dementia, 34% in residents with other stages of dementia and 28% in residents without dementia (P = .03). Intake problems occurred in 74% of residents with advanced dementia, 55% in residents with other stages of dementia, and 48% in residents without dementia (P < .001). Overall, these three clinical events were inversely associated with comfort. Less comfort was observed in all resident groups who had pneumonia (advanced dementia, P = .04; other stages of dementia, P = .04; without dementia, P < .001). Among residents with intake problems, less comfort was observed only in those with other stages of dementia (P < .001) and without dementia (P = .003), while the presence and severity of dementia moderated this association (P = .03). Developing “other clinical events” was not associated with comfort.
Conclusions: Discomfort was observed in dying residents who developed major clinical events, especially pneumonia, which was not specific to advanced dementia. It is crucial to identify and address the clinical events potentially associated with discomfort in dying residents with and without dementia.
Importance: High-quality evidence on how to improve palliative care in nursing homes is lacking.
Objective: To investigate the effect of the Palliative Care for Older People (PACE) Steps to Success Program on resident and staff outcomes.
Design, Setting, and Participants: A cluster-randomized clinical trial (2015-2017) in 78 nursing homes in 7 countries comparing PACE Steps to Success Program (intervention) with usual care (control). Randomization was stratified by country and median number of beds in each country in a 1:1 ratio.
Interventions: The PACE Steps to Success Program is a multicomponent intervention to integrate basic nonspecialist palliative care in nursing homes. Using a train-the-trainer approach, an external trainer supports staff in nursing homes to introduce a palliative care approach over the course of 1 year following a 6-steps program. The steps are (1) advance care planning with residents and family, (2) assessment, care planning, and review of needs and problems, (3) coordination of care via monthly multidisciplinary review meetings, (4) delivery of high-quality care focusing on pain and depression, (5) care in the last days of life, and (6) care after death.
Main Outcomes and Measures: The primary resident outcome was comfort in the last week of life measured after death by staff using the End-of-Life in Dementia Scale Comfort Assessment While Dying (EOLD-CAD; range, 14-42). The primary staff outcome was knowledge of palliative care reported by staff using the Palliative Care Survey (PCS; range, 0-1).
Results: Concerning deceased residents, we collected 551 of 610 questionnaires from staff at baseline and 984 of 1178 postintervention in 37 intervention and 36 control homes. Mean (SD) age at time of death ranged between 85.22 (9.13) and 85.91 (8.57) years, and between 60.6% (160/264) and 70.6% (190/269) of residents were women across the different groups. Residents’ comfort in the last week of life did not differ between intervention and control groups (baseline-adjusted mean difference, -0.55; 95% CI, -1.71 to 0.61; P = .35). Concerning staff, we collected 2680 of 3638 questionnaires at baseline and 2437 of 3510 postintervention in 37 intervention and 38 control homes. Mean (SD) age of staff ranged between 42.3 (12.1) and 44.1 (11.7) years, and between 87.2% (1092/1253) and 89% (1224/1375) of staff were women across the different groups. Staff in the intervention group had statistically significantly better knowledge of palliative care than staff in the control group, but the clinical difference was minimal (baseline-adjusted mean difference, 0.04; 95% CI, 0.02-0.05; P < .001). Data analyses began on April 20, 2018.
Conclusions and Relevance: Residents' comfort in the last week of life did not improve after introducing the PACE Steps to Success Program. Improvements in staff knowledge of palliative care were clinically not important.
Trial Registration: ISRCTN Identifier: ISRCTN14741671.
OBJECTIVE: To examine factors associated with perceived quality of communication with physicians by relatives of dying residents of long-term care facilities (LTCFs).
DESIGN: A cross-sectional retrospective study in a representative sample of LTCFs conducted in 2015. In each LTCF, deaths of residents during the 3 months before the researcher's visit were reported. Structured questionnaires were sent to the identified relatives of deceased residents.
SETTINGS AND PARTICIPANTS: A total of 736 relatives of deceased residents in 210 LTCFs (in Belgium, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland).
METHODS: The Family Perception of Physician-Family Communication scale (FPPFC) was used to assess the quality of end-of-life (EOL) communication with physicians as perceived by relatives. We applied multilevel linear regression models to find factors associated with the FPPFC score.
RESULTS: The quality of EOL communication with physicians was perceived by relatives as higher when the relative spent more than 14 hours with the resident in the last week of the resident's life (b = 0.205; P = .044), and when the treating physician visited the resident at least 3 times in the last week of the resident's life (b = 0.286; P = .002) or provided the resident with palliative care (b = 0.223; P = .003). Relatives with higher emotional burden perceived the quality of EOL communication with physicians as lower (b = -0.060; P < .001). These results had been adjusted to countries and LTCF types with physicians employed on-site or off-site of the facility.
CONCLUSION: The quality of EOL communication with physicians, as perceived by relatives of dying LTCF residents, is associated with the number of physician visits and amount of time spent by the relative with the resident in the last week of the resident's life, and relatives' emotional burden.
IMPLICATIONS: LTCF managers should organize care for dying residents in a way that enables frequent interactions between physicians and relatives, and emotional support to relatives to improve their satisfaction with EOL communication.
BACKGROUND: By 2030, 30% of the European population will be aged 60 or over and those aged 80 and above will be the fastest growing cohort. An increasing number of people will die at an advanced age with multiple chronic diseases. In Europe at present, between 12 and 38% of the oldest people die in a long-term care facility. The lack of nationally representative empirical data, either demographic or clinical, about people who die in long-term care facilities makes appropriate policy responses more difficult. Additionally, there is a lack of comparable cross-country data; the opportunity to compare and contrast data internationally would allow for a better understanding of both common issues and country-specific challenges and could help generate hypotheses about different options regarding policy, health care organization and provision. The objectives of this study are to describe the demographic, facility stay and clinical characteristics of residents dying in long-term care facilities and the differences between countries.
METHODS: Epidemiological study (2015) in a proportionally stratified random sample of 322 facilities in Belgium, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and England. The final sample included 1384 deceased residents. The sampled facilities received a letter introducing the project and asking for voluntary participation. Facility manager, nursing staff member and treating physician completed structured questionnaires for all deaths in the preceding 3 months.
RESULTS: Of 1384 residents the average age at death ranged from 81 (Poland) to 87 (Belgium, England) (p < 0.001) and length of stay from 6 months (Poland, Italy) to 2 years (Belgium) (p < 0.05); 47% (the Netherlands) to 74% (Italy) had more than two morbidities and 60% (England) to 83% (Finland) dementia, with a significant difference between countries (p < 0.001). Italy and Poland had the highest percentages with poor functional and cognitive status 1 month before death (BANS-S score of 21.8 and 21.9 respectively). Clinical complications occurred often during the final month (51.9% England, 66.4% Finland and Poland).
CONCLUSIONS: The population dying in long-term care facilities is complex, displaying multiple diseases with cognitive and functional impairment and high levels of dementia. We recommend future policy should include integration of high-quality palliative and dementia care.
Context: To provide high-quality palliative care to nursing home residents, staff need to understand the basic principles of palliative care.
Objectives: to evaluate the extent of agreement with the basic principles of palliative care of nurses and care assistants working in nursing homes in five European countries and to identify correlates.
Methods: This is a cross-sectional study in 214 homes in Belgium, England, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland. Agreement with basic principles of palliative care was measured with the Rotterdam MOVE2PC. We calculated percentages and odds ratios of agreement and an overall score between 0 (no agreement) and 5 (total agreement).
Results: Most staff in all countries agreed that palliative care involves more than pain treatment (58% Poland to 82% Belgium) and includes spiritual care (62% Italy to 76% Belgium) and care for family or relatives (56% Italy to 92% Belgium). Between 51% (the Netherlands) and 64% (Belgium) correctly disagreed that palliative care should start in the last week of life and 24% (Belgium) to 53% (Poland) agreed that palliative care and intensive life-prolonging treatment can be combined. The overall agreement score ranged between 1.82 (Italy) and 3.36 (England). Older staff (0.26; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.09–0.43, P = 0.003), nurses (0.59; 95% CI: 0.43–0.75, P < 0.001), and staff who had undertaken palliative care training scored higher (0.21; 95% CI: 0.08–0.34, P = 0.002).
Conclusions: The level of agreement of nursing home staff with basic principles of palliative care was only moderate and differed between countries. Efforts to improve the understanding of basic palliative care are needed.
OBJECTIVE: To examine how relatives evaluate the quality of communication with the treating physician of a dying resident in long-term care facilities (LTCFs) and to assess its differences between countries.
DESIGN: A cross-sectional retrospective study in a representative sample of LTCFs conducted in 2015. Relatives of residents who died during the previous 3 months were sent a questionnaire.
SETTINGS AND PARTICIPANTS: 761 relatives of deceased residents in 241 LTCFs in Belgium, England, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland.
METHODS: The Family Perception of Physician-Family Communication (FPPFC) scale (ratings from 0 to 3, where 3 means the highest quality) was used to retrospectively assess how the quality of end-of-life communication with treating physicians was perceived by relatives. We applied multilevel linear and logistic regression models to assess differences between countries and LTCF types.
RESULTS: The FPPFC score was the lowest in Finland (1.4 ± 0.8) and the highest in Italy (2.2 ± 0.7). In LTCFs served by general practitioners, the FPPFC score differed between countries, but did not in LTCFs with on-site physicians. Most relatives reported that they were well informed about a resident's general condition (from 50.8% in Finland to 90.6% in Italy) and felt listened to (from 53.1% in Finland to 84.9% in Italy) and understood by the physician (from 56.7% in Finland to 85.8% in Italy). In most countries, relatives assessed the worst communication as being about the resident's wishes for medical treatment at the end of life, with the lowest rate of satisfied relatives in Finland (37.6%).
CONCLUSION: The relatives' perception of the quality of end-of-life communication with physicians differs between countries. However, in all countries, physicians' communication needs to be improved, especially regarding resident's wishes for medical care at the end of life.
IMPLICATIONS: Training in end-of-life communication to physicians providing care for LTCF residents is recommended.
Background: Opioids, antipsychotics and hypnotics are recommended for comfort care in dying. We studied their prescription during the last 3 days in residents deceased in the long-term care facility (LTCF).
Methods: In a retrospective, cross-sectional survey in Belgium, England, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland, LTCFs, selected by proportional stratified random sampling, reported all deaths over the previous 3 months. The nurse most involved in the residents' care reviewed the chart for opioid, antipsychotic and hypnotic prescription, cause of death and comorbidities. Multivariable logistic regression was performed to adjust for resident characteristics.
Results: Response rate was 81.6%. We included 1079 deceased residents in 322 LCTFs. Opioid prescription ranged from 18.5% (95% CI: 13.0-25.8) of residents in Poland to 77.9% (95% CI: 69.5-84.5) in the Netherlands, antipsychotic prescription from 4.8% (95% CI: 2.4-9.1) in Finland to 22.4% (95% CI: 14.7-32.4) in Italy, hypnotic prescription from 7.8% (95% CI: 4.6-12.8) in Finland to 47.9% (95% CI: 38.5-57.3) in the Netherlands. Differences in opioid, antipsychotic and hypnotic prescription between countries remained significant (P < 0.001) when controlling for age, gender, length of stay, cognitive status, cause of death in multilevel, multivariable analyses. Dying from cancer showed higher odds for receiving opioids (OR 3.51; P < 0.001) and hypnotics (OR 2.10; P = 0.010).
Conclusions: Opioid, antipsychotic and hypnotic prescription in the dying phase differed significantly between six European countries. Further research should determine the appropriateness of their prescription and refine guidelines especially for LTCF residents dying of non-cancer diseases.
BACKGROUND: Nursing homes are among the most common places of death in many countries.
AIM: To determine the quality of dying and end-of-life care of nursing home residents in six European countries.
DESIGN: Epidemiological survey in a proportionally stratified random sample of nursing homes. We identified all deaths of residents of the preceding 3-month period.
MAIN OUTCOMES: quality of dying in the last week of life (measured using End-of-Life in Dementia Scales - Comfort Assessment while Dying (EOLD-CAD)); quality of end-of-life care in the last month of life (measured using Quality of Dying in Long-Term Care (QoD-LTC) scale). Higher scores indicate better quality.
SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: Three hundred and twenty-two nursing homes in Belgium, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and England. Participants were staff (nurses or care assistants) most involved in each resident's care.
RESULTS: Staff returned questionnaires regarding 1384 (81.6%) of 1696 deceased residents. The End-of-Life in Dementia Scales – Comfort Assessment while Dying mean score (95% confidence interval) (theoretical 14–42) ranged from 29.9 (27.6; 32.2) in Italy to 33.9 (31.5; 36.3) in England. The Quality of Dying in Long-Term Care mean score (95% confidence interval) (theoretical 11–55) ranged from 35.0 (31.8; 38.3) in Italy to 44.1 (40.7; 47.4) in England. A higher End-of-Life in Dementia Scales – Comfort Assessment while Dying score was associated with country (p = 0.027), older age (p = 0.012), length of stay 1 year (p = 0.034), higher functional status (p < 0.001). A higher Quality of Dying in Long-Term Care score was associated with country (p < 0.001), older age (p < 0.001), length of stay 1 year (p < 0.001), higher functional status (p = 0.002), absence of dementia (p = 0.001), death in nursing home (p = 0.033).
CONCLUSION: The quality of dying and quality of end-of-life care in nursing homes in the countries studied are not optimal. This includes countries with high levels of palliative care development in nursing homes such as Belgium, the Netherlands and England.
BACKGROUND: Several studies have highlighted the need for improvement in palliative care delivered to older people long-term care facilities. However, the available evidence on how to improve palliative care in these settings is weak, especially in Europe. We describe the protocol of the PACE trial aimed to 1) evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the 'PACE Steps to Success' palliative care intervention for older people in long-term care facilities, and 2) assess the implementation process and identify facilitators and barriers for implementation in different countries.
METHODS: We will conduct a multi-facility cluster randomised controlled trial in Belgium, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland and England. In total, 72 facilities will be randomized to receive the 'Pace Steps to Success intervention' or to 'care as usual'. Primary outcome at resident level: quality of dying (CAD-EOLD); and at staff level: staff knowledge of palliative care (Palliative Care Survey).
SECONDARY OUTCOMES: resident's quality of end-of-life care, staff self-efficacy, self-perceived educational needs, and opinions on palliative care. Economic outcomes: direct costs and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs). Measurements are performed at baseline and after the intervention. For the resident-level outcomes, facilities report all deaths of residents in and outside the facilities over a previous four-month period and structured questionnaires are sent to (1) the administrator, (2) staff member most involved in care (3) treating general practitioner, and (4) a relative. For the staff-level outcomes, all staff who are working in the facilities are asked to complete a structured questionnaire. A process evaluation will run alongside the effectiveness evaluation in the intervention group using the RE-AIM framework.
DISCUSSION: The lack of high quality trials in palliative care has been recognized throughout the field of palliative care research. This cross-national cluster RCT designed to evaluate the impact of the palliative care intervention for long-term care facilities 'PACE Steps to Success' in seven countries, will provide important evidence concerning the effectiveness as well as the preconditions for optimal implementation of palliative care in nursing homes, and this within different health care systems.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: The study is registered at www.isrctn.com - ISRCTN14741671 (FP7-HEALTH-2013-INNOVATION-1 603111) Registration date: July 30, 2015.
BACKGROUND: Timely identification of patients in need of palliative care is especially challenging in a geriatric population because of prognostic uncertainty. The Supportive and Palliative Care Indicators Tool (SPICT™) aims at facilitating this identification, yet has not been validated in a geriatric population.
OBJECTIVE: This study validates the SPICT in a geriatric patient population admitted to the hospital.
DESIGN: This is a retrospective cohort study.
SETTING: Subject were patients admitted to the acute geriatric ward of a Belgian university hospital between January 1 and June 30, 2014.
MEASUREMENTS: Data including demographics, functional status, comorbidities, treatment limitation decision (TLD), and one-year mortality were collected. SPICT was measured retrospectively by an independent assessor.
RESULTS: Out of 435 included patients, 54.7% had a positive SPICT, using a cut-off value of 2 for the general indicators and a cut-off value of 1 for the clinical questions. SPICT-positive patients were older (p = 0.033), more frequently male (p = 0.028), and had more comorbidities (p = 0.015) than SPICT-negative patients. The overall one-year mortality was 32.2%, 48.7% in SPICT-positive patients, and 11.5% in SPICT-negative patients (p < 0.001). SPICT predicted one-year mortality with a sensitivity of 0.841 and a specificity of 0.579. The area under the curve of the general indicators (0.758) and the clinical indicators of SPICT (0.748) did not differ (p = 0.638). In 71.4% of SPICT-positive cases, a TLD was present versus 26.9% in SPICT-negative cases (p < 0.001).
CONCLUSION: SPICT seems to be valuable for identifying geriatric patients in need of palliative care as it demonstrates significant association with one-year mortality and with clinical survival predictions of experienced geriatricians, as reflected by TLDs given.
Background: Over 50% of elderly people die in acute hospital settings, where the quality of end-of-life care is often suboptimum. The authors aimed to assess the effectiveness of the Care Programme for the Last Days of Life (CAREFuL) at improving comfort and quality of care in the dying phase in elderly people.
Methods: they did a cluster randomised controlled trial in acute geriatric wards in ten hospitals in Flemish Region, Belgium, between Oct 1, 2012, and March 31, 2015. Hospitals were randomly assigned to implementation of CAREFuL (CAREFuL group) or to standard care (control group) using a random number generator. Patients and families were masked to interventaion allocation; hospital staff were unmasked. CAREFuL comprised a care guide for the last days of life, training, supportive documentation, and an implementation guide. Primary outcomes were comfort around dying, measured with the End-of-Life in Dementia–Comfort Assessment in Dying (CAD-EOLD), and symptom management, measured with the End-of-Life in Dementia–Symptom Management (SM-EOLD), by nurses and family carers. Analyses were by intention to treat. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT01890239. Findings: 451 (11%) of 4241 beds in ten hospitals were included in the analyses. Five hospitals were randomly assigned to standard health care practice and five to the CAREFuL programme; 118 patients in the control group and 164 in the CAREFuL group were eligible for assessment. Assessments were done for 132 (80%) of 164 patients in the CAREFuL group and 109 (92%) of 118 in the control group by nurses, and 48 (29%) in the CAREFuL group and 23 (19%) in the control group by family carers. Implementation of CAREFuL compared with control significantly improved nurse-assessed comfort (CAD-EOLD baseline-adjusted mean difference 4·30, 95% CI 2·07–6·53; p<0·0001). No significant differences were noted for the CAD-EOLD assessed by family carers (baseline-adjusted mean difference -0·62, 95% CI -6·07 to 4·82; p=0·82) or the SM-EOLD assessed by nurses -0·41, -1·86 to 1·05; p=0·58) or by family carers -0·59, -3·75 to 2·57; p=0·71). Interpretation: Although a continuous monitoring of the programme is warranted, these results suggest that implementation of CAREFuL might improve care during the last days of life for patients in acute geriatric hospital wards. Funding: The Flemish Government Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology and the Belgian Cancer Society “Kom Op Tegen Kanker”.