The concept of guilt has been studied in the context of caregivers of older adults with advanced dementia, usually describing the feelings a person has of placing a loved one in a long-term care facility; however, little research has been done to understand how nursing home staff and proxies for older adults with dementia describe guilt as a decision-influencer in end-of-life care. For the current study, private, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 158 nursing home staff and 44 proxies in 13 nursing homes across four demographic regions in the United States. Interviews were reviewed and analyzed for how the concept of guilt was perceived as a decision-influencer. Nursing home staff described guilt as an important influencer in why proxies make decisions about end-of-life care. Staff noted that proxies who felt guilty about their relationship with their loved one or lack of time spent at end-of-life tended to be more aggressive in care decisions, whereas no proxies mentioned guilt as an influencer in care decisions. Rather, proxies used language of obligation and commitment to describe why they make decisions. Findings highlight the disconnect between nursing home staff and proxies in what motivates proxies to make end-of-life decisions for loved ones. Nursing home staff should be aware of misconceptions about proxies and work to understand proxies’ true rationale and motivations for making care decisions.
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