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ISSN: 1641-4640
Folia Neuropathologica
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vol. 61
Original paper

Attitudes of caregivers towards prolonging and shortening life in advanced stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Anna Maksymowicz-Śliwińska
Dorothée Lulé
Krzysztof Nieporęcki
1, 3
Katarzyna Ciećwierska
Albert C. Ludolph
Magdalena Kuźma-Kozakiewicz
3, 5

Department of Neurology, University Clinical Centre of the Medical University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland
Department of Neurology, University of Ulm, Ulm, Germany
Department of Neurology, Medical University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland
German Center of Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), Ulm, Germany
Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Group, Medical University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland
Folia Neuropathol 2023; 61 (4): 349-359
Online publish date: 2023/11/21
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Inevitable disease progression in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) forces patients and their caregivers (CGs) to reflect on end-of-life treatment. The CGs are often heavily burdened with their role of surrogate decision-makers. The aim of the study was to analyze attitudes of CGs and presumable attitudes of ALS patients from the CGs’ perspective towards palliative care in advanced disease stages.

Material and methods:
One hundred and sixty four CGs from Germany and Poland were interviewed regarding their own preferences and patients’ ideational attitudes towards life-prolonging (invasive and non-invasive ventilation, tube feeding) and life-shortening methods (termination of measures, active measures if permitted by law). The data were correlated with patient- and CG-related factors: demographic and clinical data, care commitment, depression and quality of life (QoL).

The CGs were mostly female spouses of ALS patients, with secondary/higher education. Nearly 70% (81% in Poland, 57% in Germany; p = 0.0001) reported positive attitudes towards life-prolonging methods, which positively correlated with religiousness and negatively with patients’ age. Approximately 40% of CGs (25% and 51% respectively; p = 0.001) reported positive attitudes towards life-shortening methods. It positively correlated with time since diagnosis and negatively with the CG’s QoL, religiosity and religious/spiritual faith as factors that significantly influenced end-of-life decisions. There was a strongly positive correlation between CGs’ positive attitudes towards life-shortening methods and presumed positive patients’ attitudes assessed by their CGs (p < 0.000001).

Although attitudes towards treatment differed between countries, the CGs of ALS patients were generally positive towards life-prolonging treatment. A greater acceptance of life-shortening methods in the case of longer disease duration and poorer QoL may indicate worse coping with disease progression and weaker adaptation mechanisms in CGs compared to those previously reported in ALS patients. A close resemblance of the CGs’ answers to probable patients’ attitudes reported by the CGs indicates that many GCs might actually express their own culturally shaped attitudes towards end-of-life methods. In light of earlier-reported discrepancies between presumed opinions of the CGs and of patients themselves, a greater focus should be placed on thorough discussions on future treatment options with ALS patients in the presence of their CGs, to stay in line with the patient’s authentic will.


palliative, depression, quality of life, caregivers, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, end of life, life-sustaining methods, life-shortening methods, shared decision-making

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