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Gerontology. 2019 Jun 18:1-7. doi: 10.1159/000500809. [Epub ahead of print]

Advance Care Planning for People with Dementia: The Role of General Practitioners.

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Centre for Primary Health Care, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland,
Clinical Ethics, University Hospital Zürich/Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.
Palliative and Supportive Care Service, Lausanne University Hospital and University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland.
Institute of Humanities in Medicine, Lausanne University Hospital and Faculty of Biology and Medicine, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland.


General practitioners (GPs) play a key role in the timely diagnosis of dementia and also in advance care planning (ACP). They often have known patients and their families for decades and are familiar with their values and treatment preferences; they are, therefore, in a position to initiate the ACP process even before the appearance of the first symptoms of dementia and certainly following disclosure of the diagnosis. To do so, they should recognise whether patients are receptive to an ACP consultation or whether they might reject it for personal, social or cultural reasons. Under no circumstances should the patient or their family be coerced into making these provisions. In most countries, the current framework does not provide enough time and money for GPs to carry out actual ACP consultations completely on their own. There is evidence that specially trained health professionals are able to more effectively discuss treatment goals and limits of life-prolonging measures than GPs who are well acquainted with their patients. Consequently, we suggest that it will be the GPs' task to seize the right moment for starting an ACP process, to raise awareness of patients and their relatives about ACP, to test the patient's decision-making capacity and, finally, to involve appropriately trained healthcare professionals in the actual ACP consultation process. Care should be taken that these professionals delivering time-intensive ACP consultations are not only able to reflect on the patient's values but are also familiar with the course of the disease, the expected complications and the decisions that can be anticipated. The GP will ensure an active exchange with the ACP professional and should have access to the documentation drawn up in the ACP consultation process (treatment plan and advance directive including instructions for medical emergencies) as soon as possible. GPs as coordinators of healthcare provision should document appropriately all specialists involved in the care and ensure that treatment decisions are implemented in accordance with the patient's preferences for future care or the presumed will of the patient.


Advance care planning; Cognitive decline; Decision-making; Dementia; General practitioner


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