The conscious state of the dying patient: An integrative review

Tricia O'Connor, Catherine Paterson, Jo Gibson, Karen Strickland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives The cognitive state of the dying in the last days of life may deteriorate, resulting in a reduced ability to communicate their care needs. Distressing symptoms, physical and existential, may go unrecognized and untreated. The objectives of this integrative review were to systematically interrogate the literature to determine the changing conscious state of dying adults and to identify changes in their care needs. Methods An integrative review protocol was registered with PROSPERO (CRD42020160475). The World Health Organization definition of palliative care informed the review. CINAHL, MEDLINE (OVID), Scopus, PsycINFO, Cochrane Library, and PubMed were searched from inception to October 2019 using search strategies for each database. Inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied. Methodological quality was appraised using the Joanna Briggs Institute Checklist for the Case Series appraisal tool. Extracted data were synthesized using a narrative approach. Results Of 5,136 papers identified, 11 quantitative case series studies were included. Six themes were identified: conscious state and change over time, awareness, pain, absence of holistic care, the voiceless patient, and signs and symptoms of dying. Significance of results In the last days of life, the physical and conscious state of the dying patient declines, resulting in an inability to express their care needs. Dignity in dying and freedom from pain and suffering are both an imperative and a human right; and unvoiced care needs can result in unnecessary suffering and distress. This review revealed that little is known about how healthcare professionals assess holistic care needs at this vulnerable time. Although much has been written about palliative and end-of-life care, the assessment of care needs when patients are no longer able to voice their own needs has largely been ignored, with little attention from clinical, educational, or research perspectives. This gap in evidence has important implications for the dying and their families.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)731-743
Number of pages13
JournalPalliative and Supportive Care
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2022


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