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J Pain Symptom Manage. 2004 Jan;27(1):5-13.

Symptom burden in the last week of life.

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Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine (EMGO), VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


In order to investigate symptom burden in the last week of life, we conducted after-death interviews with close relatives of deceased older persons from a population-based sample of older people in The Netherlands (n=270). Results show that fatigue, pain, and shortness of breath were common (83%, 48% and 50%, respectively). Other symptoms were confusion (36%), anxiety (31%), depression (28%), and nausea and/or vomiting (25%). Cancer patients and patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were clearly at a disadvantage with respect to pain and shortness of breath, respectively. Furthermore, cognitive decline turned out to be predictive of specific symptom burden. Persons with cognitive decline in the last three months had a higher symptom burden and different symptoms compared to patients with no cognitive decline. It is suggested that older persons with cognitive decline require specific attention.

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