BACKGROUND: Deciding how to treat patients with end-stage dementia developing potentially fatal events has long been contentious. Under expected new legislation the role of carers is likely to increase. Old age psychiatrists frequently have to decide between active or palliative approaches to such patients. Little is known concerning the comparative attitudes of carers and old age psychiatrists. This research examined how their attitudes differed.
METHODS: A Likert scale attitudinal questionnaire was designed following a literature review and was initially distributed to a pilot group of medical students to aid in establishing reliability and validity. Subsequently it was sent to all members of the local Alzheimer's Society Branch and all the old age psychiatrists in the health region. Its validity and reliability were investigated using factor analysis and test-retest reliability. Between group comparisons were then made using the students t-test and analysis of variance.
RESULTS: 148 carers and 34 clinicians responded. Factor analysis and test-retest analysis of students' responses validated six questions, which grouped into two factors, relating to active treatment and patient-centred ethics. Between group comparisons revealed significant differences between carers' and clinicians' attitudes in these areas. Clinicians favoured active treatment of potentially fatal events in end-stage dementia less than carers who more significantly valued patient-centred issues such as dying with dignity, the patient's best interests and the patient's wishes.
CONCLUSIONS: Old age psychiatrists and carers significantly differed in their attitudes towards treatment of potentially fatal events in end-stage dementia and this may impact on decision-making. Considerably more clinician/carer debate and dialogue seems needed.