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Logo of jnnpsycJournal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and PsychiatryCurrent TOCInstructions for authors
J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. Oct 2005; 76(10): 1420–1424.
PMCID: PMC1739352

Prevalence and characteristics of patients in a vegetative state in Dutch nursing homes

Abstract

Objectives: To establish the prevalence of vegetative state in Dutch nursing homes, describe the patient characteristics, and highlight the possible influence of medical decisions at the end of life.

Design: A cross-sectional survey. The vegetative state was defined according to the Multi Society Task Force on PVS. All Dutch nursing homes were approached to provide data on patients in a vegetative state. In cases of doubt, the researcher discussed the diagnosis with the patient's physician and, if necessary, examined the patient. Information on patients in a vegetative state in care between 2000 and September 2003 and end of life decisions for them were also recorded.

Results: All nursing homes and physicians participated. After assessment of 12 doubtful patients, 32 met the criteria of vegetative state lasting longer than one month, a prevalence of 2/1 000 000. Of these, 30 patients' data were analysed: age 9–90 years; 73% female; duration of vegetative state 2 months–20 years (26 surviving >1 year, 13 >5 years). Stroke was the commonest cause. Between 2000 and September 2003, there were 76 patients in a vegetative state in care of whom 34 died of complications and nine after withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration.

Conclusions: The prevalence of vegetative state in Dutch nursing homes has been established for the first time. The figures are lower than suggested in the literature. The study included a heterogeneous group of patients, of which a substantial number survived for many years. The results cannot be explained by a policy of systematically withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration.

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Selected References

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