Deathbed phenomena reported by patients in palliative care: clinical opportunities and responses

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    9 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Reports from patients on seeing or hearing a dead relative or dreaming a highly significant dream at the end of life can be perplexing for health professionals who may wonder how best to respond. Aim: The aim of this study was to systematically review the literature on deathbed phenomena (DBP), and provide suggestions for a clinical response to dying patients' recounts of these hard-to-explain phenomena. Methods: The authors searched for relevant studies which reported on DBP within a palliative care context. Eligibility criteria were established, a review process was employed and a narrative synthesis approach was used to interpret the data. Results: In total, eight papers met the inclusion criteria. Reported prevalence of DBP ranged from 24-51% with common themes described. Distinguishing between DBP and hallucinations was discussed, requiring very different clinical responses. Phenomena were timed most often in the last hours or days before death. Experiencing a DBP was, in most cases, deeply meaningful, bringing comfort, peace and reassurance. Health professionals were not surprised to hear of a DBP, but were not always well prepared to respond appropriately. Conclusions: Rather than simply dismissing DBP as medication related or the physiological effects of dying, the significance of these events and the comfort afforded by them to patients and carers should be recognised. Disclosure of DBP may enable health professionals to discuss more spiritual and existential concerns, which have the potential to offer hope, meaning and connection. We propose strategies and approaches for strengthening compassionate clinical practice in this area.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)117-125
    Number of pages9
    JournalInternational Journal of Palliative Nursing
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015


    • Attitude to death
    • Caregiversm hallucinations
    • Compassion
    • Deathbed phenomena
    • Palliative care
    • Systematic review


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