Journal of pain and symptom management 2017 07 12() pii S0885-3924(17)30273-7
Few studies have explored the clinical significance of the family’s presence or absence at the moment of a patient’s death and meaningful communication (saying "goodbye") in terms of post-bereavement outcomes.
To explore the potential association between the family’s depression/complicated grief and their presence at the moment of a patient’s death and the patient’s communication with the family.
A nationwide questionnaire survey was conducted on 965 family members of cancer patients who had died at palliative care units.
More than 90% of family members wished to have been present at the moment of death (agree: 40%, n = 217; strongly agree: 51%, n = 280); 79% (n = 393) thereof were present. Families’ presence at death was not significantly associated with the occurrence of depression and complicated grief, but the dying patient’s ability to say "goodbye" to the family beforehand was (depression: adjusted odds rate, 0.42; 95% CI, 0.26-0.69 adjusted P = 0.001; complicated grief: adjusted odds rate, 0.53; 95% CI, 0.29-0.94 adjusted P = 0.009).
Many families wished to be present at the moment of the patient’s death; however, meaningful communication (saying "goodbye") between the patient and family members, and not their presence or absence itself, was associated with better outcomes on measures of depression or complicated grief. Healthcare professionals could consider promoting both mutual communication (relating to preparation for death) between family members and patients before imminent death, as well as the family’s presence at the moment of death.