Relating to the end of life through advance care planning: Expectations and experiences of people with dementia and their family caregivers

N.L. Dekker*, S.R. Bolt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background Dementia is widely considered a progressive condition associated with changes in cognitive capacities, which promotes the idea that people with dementia need to anticipate end-of-life care preferences. There is a growing body of interventions meant to support advance care planning (ACP) for people with dementia and their families. However, a deeper understanding of their experiences and expectations regarding planning the end of life is needed to inform ethically sound and person-centered ACP. This study explores how end-of-life care planning for people with dementia is experienced and perceived in practice. Methods We conducted a secondary analysis of qualitative data from in-depth interviews and ethnographic fieldwork. Participants included people with dementia living in the community or in nursing homes, family caregivers, and professional caregivers. During reflective sessions, the researchers moved back and forth between their original data and overarching topics related to ACP. Both performed deductive coding to filter relevant information from their data. Ongoing discussions allowed for the fine-tuning of themes. Results End-of-life care planning for people with dementia can encompass a paradox of control. While it may foster a sense of being in control, it may also feel like relinquishing control over future situations. It raises concerns regarding responsibility, as present, former and future wishes may not align. Family caregivers are often responsible for concrete end-of-life decision-making, prompting them to weigh previous wishes against present situations. Further, people with dementia may wish to focus on the present and distance themselves from the future. Discussion Advance decisions about end-of-life care are often decontextualized and people may find it difficult to oversee their future conditions and preferences. The widely recognized purpose of ACP to exert control over end-of-life care may need revision to match the needs of people with dementia while they are coping with their condition and an uncertain future.
Original languageEnglish
Article number14713012211066370
Pages (from-to)918-933
Number of pages16
JournalDementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice
Issue number3
Early online date3 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • End-of-life
  • palliative care
  • advance care planning
  • future
  • control
  • qualitative research

Cite this