Background: Chronic breathlessness is a disabling syndrome that profoundly impacts patients’ and caregivers’ lives. Driving is important for most people, including those with advanced disease. Regular, low-dose, sustained-release morphine safely reduces breathlessness, but little is known about its impact on driving.
Aim: To understand patients’ and caregivers’ (1) perspectives and experiences of driving with chronic breathlessness; and (2) perceived impact of regular, low-dose, sustained-release morphine on driving.
Design: A qualitative study embedded in a pragmatic, phase III, randomised, placebo-controlled trial of low-dose, sustained-release morphine (<=32 mg/24 h) for chronic breathlessness. Semi-structured interviews were conducted immediately after participants withdrew or completed the randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Informed by grounded theory, a constant comparative approach to analysis was adopted.
Setting/participants: Participants were recruited from an outpatients palliative care service in Adelaide, Australia. Participants included patients (n = 13) with severe breathlessness associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and their caregivers (n = 9).
Results: Participants were interviewed at home. Eleven received morphine 8–32 mg. Three themes emerged: (1) independence; (2) breathlessness’ impact on driving; and (3) driving while taking regular, low-dose, sustained-release morphine.
Conclusion: Driving contributed to a sense of identity and independence. Being able to drive increased the physical and social space available to patients and caregivers, their social engagement and well-being. Patients reported breathlessness at rest may impair driving skills, while the introduction of sustained-release morphine seemed to have no self-reported impact on driving. Investigating this last perception objectively, especially in terms of safety, is the subject of ongoing work.