Open Access Highly Accessed Study protocol

Palliative care in advanced dementia; A mixed methods approach for the development of a complex intervention

Elizabeth L Sampson12*, Ingela Thuné-Boyle3, Riitta Kukkastenvehmas3, Louise Jones1, Adrian Tookman14, Michael King3 and Martin R Blanchard35

Author Affiliations

1 Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Unit, Department of Mental Health Sciences, Royal Free and University Medical School, London, UK

2 Department of Mental Health Services for Older People, Barnet Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust, London, UK

3 Department of Mental Health Sciences, Royal Free and University Medical School, London, UK

4 Department of Palliative Care, Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust, London, UK

5 Department of Mental Health Care for Older People, Camden and Islington Mental Health and Social Care Trust, London, UK

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BMC Palliative Care 2008, 7:8  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-7-8

Published: 11 July 2008



There is increasing interest in improving the quality of care that patients with advanced dementia receive when they are dying. Our understanding of the palliative care needs of these patients and the natural history of advanced disease is limited. Many people with advanced dementia have unplanned emergency admissions to the acute hospital; this is a critical event: half will die within 6 months. These patients have complex needs but often lack capacity to express their wishes. Often carers are expected to make decisions. Advance care planning discussions are rarely performed, despite potential benefits such more consistent supportive healthcare, a reduction in emergency admissions to the acute hospital and better resolution of carer bereavement.


We have used the MRC complex interventions framework, a "bottom-up" methodology, to develop an intervention for patients with advanced dementia and their carers aiming to 1) define end of life care needs for both patients and carers, 2) pilot a palliative care intervention and 3) produce a framework for advance care planning for patients.

The results of qualitative phase 1 work, which involved interviews with carers, hospital and primary care staff from a range of disciplines, have been used to identify key barriers and challenges. For the exploratory trial, 40 patients will be recruited to each of the control and intervention groups. The intervention will be delivered by a nurse specialist. We shall investigate and develop methodology for a phase 3 randomised controlled trial. For example we shall explore the feasibility of randomisation, how best to optimise recruitment, decide on appropriate outcomes and obtain data for power calculations. We will evaluate whether the intervention is pragmatic, feasible and deliverable on acute hospital wards and test model fidelity and its acceptability to carers, patients and staff.


Results of qualitative phase 1 work suggested that carers and staff were keen to discuss these issues and guided the development of the intervention and choice of outcomes. This will be vital in moving to a phase III trial that is pragmatic and feasible for these complex patients within the NHS

Trial registration