Making decisions at the end of life when caring for a person with dementia: A literature review to explore the potential use of heuristics in difficult decision-making

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Abstract

© 2016 Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. Objective: Decision-making, when providing care and treatment for a person with dementia at the end of life, can be complex and challenging. There is a lack of guidance available to support practitioners and family carers, and even those experienced in end of life dementia care report a lack of confidence in decision-making. It is thought that the use of heuristics (rules of thumb) may aid decision-making. The aim of this study is to identify whether heuristics are used in end of life dementia care, and if so, to identify the context in which they are being used. Design: A narrative literature review was conducted taking a systematic approach to the search strategy, using the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination guidelines. Rapid appraisal methodology was used in order to source specific and relevant literature regarding the use of heuristics in end of life dementia care. Data sources: A search using terms related to dementia, palliative care and decision-making was conducted across 4 English language electronic databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO and CINAHL) in 2015. Results: The search identified 12 papers that contained an algorithm, guideline, decision tool or set of principles that we considered compatible with heuristic decision-making. The papers addressed swallowing and feeding difficulties, the treatment of pneumonia, management of pain and agitation, rationalising medication, ending life-sustaining treatment, and ensuring a good death. Conclusions: The use of heuristics in palliative or end of life dementia care is not described in the research literature. However, this review identified important decision-making principles, which are largely a reflection of expert opinion. These principles may have the potential to be developed into simple heuristics that could be used in practice.

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Mathew, R., Davies, N., Manthorpe, J., & Iliffe, S. (2016). Making decisions at the end of life when caring for a person with dementia: A literature review to explore the potential use of heuristics in difficult decision-making. BMJ Open, 6(7). https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010416

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