New research has found that end-of-life dreams and visions (ELDVs) are an intrinsic and comforting part of the dying process.
"These dreams and visions may improve quality of life and should be treated accordingly," says James Donnelly, associate professor of counseling and human services at Canisius College in New York.
The 66 patients in the study were receiving end-of-life care at the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Cheektowaga, New York. Donnelly and his colleagues interviewed the patients daily about the content, frequency and comfort level of their ELDVs.
The researchers found that "the most common dreams and visions were of deceased relatives or friends." Dreams and visions about the deceased were "significantly more comforting" to patients than other kinds of ELDVs, and became more frequent as the person approached death.
"This study demonstrates that ELDVs are commonly experienced and characterized by a consistent pattern of realism and emotional significance," Donnelly said. The study noted that some medical professionals tend to discount pre-death dreams and visions.
"If they are seen as delusions or hallucinations, they are treated as problems to be controlled," Donnelly pointed out. But there is an important distinction between ELDVs and delirium.
"During a delirium state, the person has lost their connection to reality and ability to communicate rationally. Delirium is distressing and dangerous, and must be treated medically," the study said.
"In contrast, our study shows that ELDVs are typically comforting, realistic and often very meaningful, highlighting a critical difference," the researchers noted. The study appeared in the Journal of Palliative Medicine