End -of -life planning and decision -making: Implications for adults with mental retardation

Sandra Young Olson, The University of Texas School of Public Health


This research focused on the topic of end-of-life planning and decision-making for adults affected by mental retardation. Adults with mental retardation have unique challenges in this regard, including difficulty communicating their wishes without assistance and diminished decision-making skills. The primary research objective was to identify factors that can affect opportunities for adults with mental retardation in community-based services settings (and their advocates) to be involved in planning and deciding about their own end-of-life experience. A descriptive qualitative inquiry was designed to explore issues related to death and dying, and the notion of end-of-life planning, from the perspective of adults with mental retardation who receive publicly-funded community services ("clients") and family members of individuals who receive such services. Study participants were recruited from a single mental retardation service provider in a large urban setting (the "Agency"). Sixteen clients and 14 families of Agency clients took part. Client data collection was accomplished through face-to-face interviews, focus group meetings, and record reviews; family members were involved in a face-to-face interview only. An initial coding scheme was developed based upon literature and policy reviews, and themes related to the research questions. Analysis involved extracting data from transcripts and records and placing it into appropriate thematic categories, building support for each theme with the accumulated data. Coding themes were modified to accommodate new data when it challenged existing themes. Findings suggest that adults with mental retardation do have the requisite knowledge, interest, and ability to participate in decisions about their end-of-life experience and handling of affairs. Siblings are overwhelmingly the chosen future surrogates and they (or their children) will likely be the end-of-life advocates for their brothers and sisters affected by mental retardation. Findings further point to a need for increased awareness, accurate information, and improved communication about end-of-life issues, both in general and particular to adults affected by mental retardation. Also suggested by the findings is a need to focus on creating accommodations and adaptations that can best uncover a person's authentic views on life and death and related end-of-life preferences. Practical implications and suggestions for further research are also discussed.

Subject Area

Health care|Public health

Recommended Citation

Olson, Sandra Young, "End -of -life planning and decision -making: Implications for adults with mental retardation" (2005). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3198339.