Researchers try to unlock meaning of dreams experienced in person's final hours

Hospice Buffalo working on research study on dreams, visions of dying

By Aaron Wische - Senior Executive Producer, Lauren Freeman - Anchor

HOUSTON - Dreams and visions of the dying have been well-documented throughout history and across cultures.

They often give patients comfort as they approach death. But they've never been studied scientifically, until now.

"Another time, she's coming outside in her flowered dress with her apron on," Geraldine Musser described.

Musser is a hospice patient who's talking about the dream she had about her mother, who died many years ago.

"It means she's out there. When I die, I'll see her again," Musser said.

Hospice Buffalo is working on a groundbreaking research study on dreams and visions of the dying.

"I was taking care of patients all of a sudden who were all dying, and I was witnessing something that I neither been trained to understand or knew how to interpret," Dr. Christopher Kerr said.

Kerr, chief medical officer at Hospice Buffalo, began a study in 2011 with 66 patients. They now have 1,300 reported incidents in several follow-up studies.

"I thought it was very important to legitimize these patients, to quantify it, to put it in a context that doctors would understand," Kerr said.

Researchers ask patients very specific questions about their dreams and record the answers.

Clinical researcher Rachel Depner describes the type of questions asked: "What was this like for you? Does this remind you of anything? Does this affect your sense of meaning or purpose in life, your attitudes about death and dying?"

The first study results were published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine. It turns out the dreams and visions are comforting and profoundly meaningful to those dying.

"This idea of love and forgiveness seem to be an overarching theme that make people whole again as they're approaching death," Kerr said.

"It makes you feel better knowing they're there," Musser said.

Further research is ongoing at Hospice Buffalo involving hundreds of patients, and researchers are currently analyzing more than 550 dreams. For more information, visit hospicebuffalo.com.

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