Med thumb lady nose dream

During their final days, people commonly report having extraordinary dreams and visions. While there’s an extensive record of these pre-death experiences, little formal research on them exists. Researchers from Canisius College, however, recently conducted the first such study, published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine and found that end-of-life dreams and visions (ELDVs) are an intrinsic and comforting part of the dying process.

The study included 66 patients receiving end-of-life care at the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Cheektowaga, NY. On a daily basis, researchers interviewed patients about their dreams and visions, specifically asking about their content, frequency and comfort level.

More than anything else, patients said they dreamt of deceased relatives and friends. While dreaming of the departed may sound saddening, patients said the experiences, which grew more frequent as they neared death, brought them significantly more comfort than dreams concerning other topics. The findings are dramatic. Of the patients interviewed:

  • 88.1% reported "experiencing at least one dream or vision"
  • 46% of their dreams or visions related to deceased friends or relatives
  • 39.1% of their dreams or visions "occurred while both asleep and awake"
  • Patients reported that a majority of the dreams and visions were comforting or extremely comforting

One patient, David, 88, "dreamt that he walked to his childhood home and his deceased father walked him back to the inpatient unit and said, 'We're going to stay here.'" Barry, also 88, "dreamt of driving somewhere unknown and was comforted by hearing his mother say, 'It's all right. You're a good boy. I love you.'"

Credit: Journal of Palliative Medicine

Study authors say it’s important that doctors understand ELDVs as cathartic, comforting and natural experiences. Too often, according to the study authors, doctors and nurses dismiss ELDVs as delusions or hallucinations that require fixing. But the end of life dreams and visions differ from delirium in a significant way: People who are delirious have lost their connection to reality and cannot communicate rationally. Because delirium poses risk and causes distress, it merits medical treatment. ELDVs, per this research, don’t warrant the same cautious response; they’re meaningful and healthy, and can affect quality of life for people nearing the end of theirs.