Article Abstract

Prevalence and intensity of dyspnea, pain, and agitation among people dying with late stage dementia compared with people dying with advanced cancer: a single-center preliminary study in Brazil

Authors: Luiz Guilherme L. Soares, André M. Japiassu, Lúcia C. Gomes, Rogéria Pereira, Carla Peçanha, Tatiana Goldgaber


Background: As death approaches, there may be similarities in terms of physical symptoms among dementia and cancer. This study aimed to estimate the prevalence and intensity of dyspnea, pain, and agitation among people dying with late stage dementia versus those dying with advanced cancer.
Methods: A retrospective analysis, conducted in a post-acute care facility (PACF) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We reviewed the electronic charts for the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) scores, from death backwards in time (3 days).
Results: We included 57 patients who died with dementia and 54 patients who died with cancer. The prevalence of dyspnea (dementia: n=34, 60% vs. cancer: n=39, 72%; P=0.23), and agitation (dementia: n=7, 13% vs. cancer: n=14, 25%; P=0.17) were statically similar between the two groups. Pain was less common in dementia (dementia: n=19, 34% vs. cancer: n=31, 57%; P=0.02). There were no significant differences in the percentage of patients with moderate to severe dyspnea (dementia: n=28, 49% vs. cancer: n=33, 61%; P=0.28), and moderate to severe agitation (dementia: n=4, 7% vs. cancer: n=12, 23%; P=0.09). Dementia patients were less likely to experience moderate to severe pain than cancer patients (dementia: n=14, 25% vs. cancer: n=25, 46%; P=0.03). The diagnosis of cancer was independently associated with pain, severe symptoms, and the co-occurrence of dyspnea, pain, and agitation (odds ratio >1).
Conclusions: People dying with dementia and those dying with cancer experienced similar rates of dyspnea, and agitation. However, pain was significantly more prevalent and intense among people dying with cancer.