Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Motor neurone disease: a hospice perspective.

British Medical Journal 1992; 304 doi: (Published 22 February 1992) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1992;304:471
  1. T. O'Brien,
  2. M. Kelly,
  3. C. Saunders
  1. St Christopher's Hospice, London.


    OBJECTIVE--To describe and evaluate the management of patients with motor neurone disease from the perspective of a hospice. DESIGN--Retrospective analysis of hospice medical and nursing notes. SETTING--Established 62 bed teaching and research hospice. SUBJECTS--124 patients with motor neurone disease cared for by the hospice between January 1980 and November 1990. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Patient profile; functional status; symptom control and use of opioids; insight; mode and management of death. RESULTS--124 patients (67 women, 57 men) had a mean age 63.9 years. The median length of admission was 61.5 days (range 1 to 2147). 84 patients (68%) were aware of their diagnosis and its implications when first seen by a hospice doctor. Functionally, the patients were very dependent. Symptoms such as pain, dyspnoea, and insomnia were major problems that responded well to opioids. Many patients were noted to deteriorate "suddenly," and in 58% of cases death occurred within 24 hours of this deterioration. When dying, 106 patients (94%) were peaceful and settled. 101 patients (89%) received opioids during this dying period. No patient chocked to death. CONCLUSIONS--Although motor neurone disease is an uncommon disorder, many of its symptoms occur commonly in medical practice and must be actively treated. Opioids are both safe and effective for such treatment. The term chocking is both inaccurate and inappropriate in describing the cause of death in motor neurone disease and its use should be abandoned.