3 Common Myths About Palliative Sedation

Palliative sedation (also sometimes called terminal sedation or continuous deep sleep) is the use of powerful sedatives at the end of life to provide comfort when other pain medications fail to provide sufficient relief from severe pain and/or other uncontrollable symptoms. It's often used for cancer patients, for example.

Obviously, inducing unconsciousness is a serious decision for a caregiver and hospice or medical team. Many people with Alzheimer's have peaceful deaths that don't involve this degree of pain. But if your loved one's deterioration leads you down such a road, being aware of all options can itself be a comfort.

Myth: Palliative sedation is euthanasia.

Fact: The purpose of palliative sedation is to ease pain, not to cause death. It's considered a last-resort comfort option when other measures fail.

Myth: Doctors will frown if caregivers ask about palliative sedation.

Fact: Either the doctor or the patient's family may first suggest the option when a patient is dying and in ongoing pain. It's important to explore all possibilities; there's no harm or moral failing in it.

Myth: Palliative care of any kind hastens death.

Fact: Palliative care doesn't cause patients to die sooner. In fact, like hospice care, it may prolong life. Palliative care, in general, is appropriate for people at all stages of life for whom curative measures are failing -- and curative measures can be continued alongside comfort care. Hospice care is a subset of palliative care specifically targeted to those thought to have six months or less to live, but hospice care doesn't hasten death, either.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio