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Difference between Reality and Hallucination: Pre-Death Dreams Aren’t Hallucinations

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.

Study authors say it’s important that doctors understand ELDVs as cathartic, comforting and natural experiences. Too often, according to the press release, 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.

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