How Much Mandarin Chinese Can Adults Learn in 90 Days?

I am looking for other forward-thinking adults with a global view to join me in learning Mandarin Chinese as quickly and efficiently as possible.  I have coordinated a 90-day beginning workshop based on research suggesting what will optimize our learning. Legacy funds from my father will cover all of our expenses, including providing awards for achievements. Workshop meetings will be held in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. and online, beginning August 1, 2022.


“[Mandarin Chinese is] one of the most geopolitically important languages in the twenty-first century.”
– Jing Tsu, Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution that Made China Modern, 2022

“The next 100 years of human history will likely be defined by three things: the environment, artificial intelligence (or something like it), and China – and China plays heavily in the first two.”
– Jeremy Goldkorn, SupChina, 2/4/22

Why adults?

The findings of neuroscience contradict the myth that second language learning is ineffectual in adulthood. In fact, the intricately, deeply and extensively networked mature adult human brain may be primed for second language acquisition, particularly Mandarin Chinese. For older brains – I am 63 – neuroscience backs second language acquisition as a potentially  enhancingimproving, even restorative cognitive endeavor.


We will follow a research-informed curriculum I have derived from doing extensive literature reviews on the theory and science of adult language learning, particularly of Mandarin Chinese. I have summarized my findings here and the proposed syllabus is here.

“I am neither an Athenian, nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world.”
– attributed to Socrates by Plutarch

For whom?

  • For up to 6 adults, 21 years and older, with little to no exposure to Mandarin Chinese.
  • Those interested in local and global business, academics, politics, and/or communities.
  • Able, willing, and determined to prioritize the learning of Mandarin Chinese for 90 days.
  • Able to allocate one hour per day to independent study for 90 days.
  • Able and willing to attend these meetings:
    – Once per week, 90-minute, in-person workshop, held in Blacksburg, Virginia, on Tuesdays, 3:00 – 4:30 PM U.S. Eastern Time. (Note: The workshop is designed to include this weekly, in-person meeting. Sorry, but if you cannot attend in-person meetings in Blacksburg, Virginia, please do not apply.)
    – Once per week, 30-minute, online conversation group, Mondays, 1:00 – 1:30 PM U.S. Eastern Time, facilitated by Benfang Wang.
  • Access to a laptop or desktop, a mobile device, and a high-speed internet connection.
  • Sufficient proficiency in English to read directions written in English.
  • Desire to gain proficiency in Mandarin Chinese optimally. “Optimally” is defined as “as quickly and efficiently as possible, with the least amount of time, effort, and expense as possible.”
  • Desire to gain proficiency in Mandarin Chinese in order to communicate on a meaningful level with speakers of Mandarin Chinese. “Meaningful” is defined as “the ability to speak, listen, write, think, feel, work, relate, collaborate, and connect in Mandarin Chinese.”
  • Willingness to accept the designated, longer-term measure of the effectiveness of the workshop’s protocol as scores on the Mandarin Chinese proficiency exams administered by the Chinese government, the Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì 汉语水平考试 (HSK).

Why the HSK exams?

The internationally-recognized, standard measure of proficiency in Mandarin Chinese is passing scores on a set of exams administered by the Chinese government, the Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì 汉语水平考试 (HSK). Abbreviated “HSK,” passing the pre-2021 HSK Level 3 exam is considered the minimum level of proficiency for many employment and educational opportunities in the U.S., in China, and in other countries. (A recent job search using the term “Mandarin Chinese” produced 11,517 results in the U.S.) Passing the pre-2021 HSK Level 3 exam requires the ability to hear Mandarin Chinese and understand it, and to read and write it. Speaking is evaluated on higher levels of the HSK exam but not Level 3.

How much?

There is no fee for this workshop.

The Mandarin Chinese Workshop is funded through the legacy of Robert H. Giles, Jr., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Virginia Tech, to foster use of the findings of science to build a system of global, humane, human connection in service to the greater good. Ut Prosim.

Here is the proposed funding for the project. (.pdf opens in new tab)

What is provided?

  • 90-day subscriptions to all paid online media and tools used in the workshop.
  • Weekly, 30-minute, online conversation group, facilitated by Benfang Wang.
  • $100 voucher for online instruction via italki.
  • $50 award for submitting achievement scores after completing 30 consecutive days of study, one hour per day.
  • $100 award for completing daily check-ins and submitting achievement scores after completing 60 consecutive days of study, one hour per day.
  • $200 award for completing daily check-ins and submitting achievement scores after completing 90 days of study, one hour per day.

What is expected?

  • Ability to attend in-person and online meetings as described above. Although residing in the Blacksburg area is preferred in hopes of fostering development of a post-workshop community of Mandarin Chinese learners and a “study buddy” cohort, workshop members may reside in other cities, states, or nations and commute to in-person meetings.
  • 90 consecutive days of study, verified by daily check-ins.
  • Submission of achievement scores in these 5 time increments: with application, pre-test/first day, 30 days, 60 days, post-test/90 days.
  • Completion of Mandarin Blueprint’s 6-hour Pronunciation Mastery course within the first 21 days.
  • Willingness to share scores with group members.
  • Willingness to teach and learn, i.e. make presentations to group members about what they are learning.
  • Willingness to follow group sharing protocols during meetings. This includes, when making a suggestion, differentiating between anecdotal, case study data and empirical research data and identifying opinions or theories as such.
  • Congeniality.


This project is an attempt to use the findings of research, plus logic and experimentation, to contribute to discovering aspects of the realities of learning Mandarin Chinese that optimize that learning for most adults, most of the time, better than other ways, and better than doing nothing. No less than fostering connection and understanding among the world’s people is part of the mission of this project.

  • This curriculum is informed by current research but has not been tested by research methods.
  • Although desired outcomes are hoped for, zero desired outcomes may result and no guarantee is implied.

If you have interest in the workshop

If, after studying your answers to the Mandarin Chinese Interest Survey, you would like to apply to become a member of the workshop

Please open an email to send to me (contact info is here) and include this information

  1. Name and age.
  2. Phone number.
  3. Your answers to the Mandarin Chinese Interest Survey.
  4. An attachment of the .pdf of the page reporting your HSKlevel scores using Simplified Characters. HSKlevel is a 60-item assessment created using an artificial intelligence algorithm by François-Pierre Paty, a French Ph.D. student. (To create a .pdf of the page from a laptop or desktop computer, go to Print, then Destination, then toggle from the name of your printer to Save as PDF.)
  5. Date you took the HSKlevel assessment.
  6. A one- to two-sentence statement about why you want to join the workshop (maximum of two sentences).
  7. A one- to two-sentence statement about what you think you can contribute to fostering connection, collaboration, synergy, and optimal learning among the workshop’s members (maximum of two sentences).
  8. A brief acknowledgement that you have read the Statement of Intentions.
  9. How you heard about the workshop.
  10. Whether or not you have a Netflix account.
  11. Day of the week most convenient for you to attend an afternoon workshop meeting at a location in Blacksburg from 3:00 to 4:30 PM.

Send your application email to me as soon as possible.

Note: The first session of the Mandarin Chinese Workshop has begun. A second session may be held beginning in January, 2023.

With regard to this project, here are my disclosures.

If you are a native speaker of Mandarin Chinese residing in the Blacksburg, Virginia area and are open to serving as a 30-minute guest instructor for a fee of $50 during one of our 13 weekly group meetings, please contact me.

About the workshop coordinator

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., L.P.C., is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Commonwealth of Virginia, U.S.A., and a student of Mandarin Chinese. She has passed the HSK 1 and HSK 2 exams. She holds master’s degrees in curriculum and instruction and mental health counseling, and a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate. As an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, she studied Chinese history. She attended the virtual National Chinese Language Conference in 2021 and 2022. She has taught English at the middle school, high school, and college levels.

Questions? Please contact Anne.

Image credit: iStock

Mandarin Chinese Workshop-related links

Last updated 9/2/22

All content on this site is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical, professional, and/or legal advice. Consult a qualified professional for personalized medical, professional, and legal advice.

Ahead of His Time: Obituary for Robert H. Giles, Jr.

Robert “Bob” Hayes Giles, Jr., of Blacksburg, Virginia, 88, seeing he was too ill to be of further service to his family and others, died bravely on May 5, 2022 from voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED). He suffered from neurodegenerative diseases resulting in symptoms commonly termed “dementia.” He donated his body to science to help researchers further understand these disabling disorders. He had no other illnesses.

Robert H. Giles, Jr.

Bob was preceded in death by his wife of 56 years, Mary Wilson Burnette Giles; his mother, Anna Rinsland Giles Trevey; his father, Robert Hayes Giles, Sr.; stepmother, Edith Lohr Giles; father-in-law, Wilbert Glenn Burnette, and mother-in-law, Mary Thigpen Burnette. He is survived by his brother, George Giles and his wife, Lena, and their children and grandchildren; step-sister Susan Lohr Hudson; brother-in-law W. Gaines Burnette and his wife, Peggy, and their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren; cousins Kay Hughes and John Irvin; daughter, Anne Giles; daughter, Margaret Galecki; son-in-law Dennis Galecki; former sons-in-law Mark Wiley, Brad Rimbey, and Iain Clelland; grandson Alan Wiley, his wife, Mary “Woo” Wiley, their son, great-grandson Beau, and their daughter, great-granddaughter Dottie; grandson Ben Wiley; granddaughter Mary Teague and her husband, Chad, and their daughter, great-granddaughter Raine; grandson James Galecki and his wife, Renee, and their sons, great-grandsons Logan and Liam; granddaughter Caroline Galecki; and granddaughter Catherine Galecki.

Bob was born on May 25, 1933 in Lynchburg, Virginia. He attended E. C. Glass High School, during which he was awarded a Bausch and Lomb Science award for studies of the ring-necked pheasant. As an Eagle Scout, he was awarded the W.T. Hornaday National Award for Distinguished Service to Conservation and the James E. West Scouting Conservation Scholarship. During his undergraduate years at Virginia Tech, Bob was an editor for several magazines and the president of the V.P.I. Corps of Cadets of 6,000 students. He was also a member of seven national honorary societies.

Bob was a Professor Emeritus of Wildlife Management at Virginia Tech where he taught for 30 years. His Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Master of Science degree in Wildlife Management were from Virginia Tech. His Ph.D. in Zoology was from The Ohio State University. He was a recipient of The William E. Wine Award, given for a history of university teaching excellence.

In the early 1960s, Bob was a pioneer in envisioning use of computers for natural resource management. He and his graduate students meticulously recorded data about the land by hand, then used computer programs on decks of punched cards to analyze it. This process is now done through satellite imagery and is known widely as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). In 1968, he learned of general system theory and became a systems thinker. He believed that problems are interconnected and that a system of problems must be met with a system of solutions.

During his time as a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Virginia Tech, Bob was known for his innovative applications of computer programming. With the support of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), he created the woodland resource management system of TVA, once used on 300 farms a year. With staff and students, he created the first wildlife information base (BOVA – Biota of Virginia database). He chaired the Blacksburg planning commission, consulted with the National Wildlife Refuge System, aided the State Cooperation Commission, and wrote the first plan for wildlife other-than-game for Virginia.

Bob was a speaker at the first Earth Day at Virginia Tech on April 22, 1970. When challenged by a student in the audience, “What are you doing about zero population growth, Dr. Giles?”, Bob held up his hand in a peace sign and answered, “Two children and a vasectomy!” He was unafraid of challenging taboos for the sake of others.

At his retirement party, colleague Larry Nielsen said, “Giles has more ideas in an hour than most people have in a lifetime.” When she was a teenager, his daughter Anne remembers her father asking what she wanted written on her tombstone. She returned the question. He answered: “He contributed to science.” Bob lamented hearing often that his ideas were “great” but “ahead of their time.” Recently, a former student remembered thinking in the 1970s that Dr. Giles’s ideas were “out there.” He said, “They’re now standard practice.”

Bob began working on the concept he termed “Rural System” in the early 1980s, and in earnest after his retirement in 1998. He envisioned Rural System as a GIS-informed enterprise to improve the social, economic, and environmental health of regions through optimal use of resources via a system of for-profit, citizen-owned entities of multiple, small, natural resource-related enterprises. He was aided in completing his final research work by Risa Pesapane, now a Ph.D. and professor at The Ohio State University, and Laurel Sindewald, now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado, Denver. His final work, “Rural Future: An Alternative for Society Before 2050 A.D.,” was edited by Laurel Sindewald.

Raised in Southwest Virginia, Bob knew the struggles of people in Central Appalachia, impoverished after the collapse of the coal and tobacco industries. To further his knowledge, after retirement, he visited rural areas of Africa – Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda – China, and India.

Bob was friends for nearly half a century with Airport Acres neighbors Mills and Betty Jo Everett, and Bill and Lois Patterson. During his final years living at his beloved house on Rose Avenue, Bob recounted with laughter and wonder his local adventures with friend Caleb Flood.

Bob spent the last years of his life at The Heritage House with two other residents under the care of Hugh Bowman and his staff. Bob considered Hugh a friend. Perceiving his fellow residents to be treasured graduate students, he read the newspaper to them and tended them as he could. Bob’s family thanks Hugh and Kim Bowman, devoted members of the staff at The Heritage House, Andrea Hendricks, Clidia Lewis, Kathy Merideth, and kind companion Jo Burks, for the gentle, respectful, well-tended days they gave him. Bob’s family thanks Dr. Gregory Beato for his compassionate medical care.

Bob was known for his ability to look realistically at problems, but to see vast systems of solutions in radical, unprecedented ways. He championed science, facts, reason, logic, and humanity. He could be counted on for principled living, courtesy, and kindness. Some considered him valiant, noble, and saintly. Bob mentored and corresponded with former graduate students into their own retirements. To the last, he grieved the loss of his understanding and lamented being unable to protect his daughters from the hardships of his illness and these times. Before he lost the ability to articulate his thoughts, however, Bob said, “It’s been a grand adventure.” With nearly all of his brain function gone, unable to speak and barely able to move, within hours of the end of his life, he found the wherewithal to smile at his daughters.

As to his legacy, as former graduate student Bharat Bhushan, now a professor in India put it, “I only know, even as I am so far away, that his mind reaches out to me and many others, and talks to us. I was, am, his student, forever.”

Bob often signed his letters, then his emails: “Pax.”

In memoriam, when you open the next door for someone or bring in your neighbor’s bins from the curb, please think of Bob Giles.

A visitation with family members will take place on Tuesday, May 31, 4:00 – 6:00 PM, at McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A.

To honor Bob’s life and work, you are invited to contribute to the Robert H. Giles, Jr. Scholarship at Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech Foundation, 902 Prices Fork Road, Blacksburg, VA 24061.

The biography and CV of Robert “Bob” H. Giles, Jr. were last updated by him in 2018. They originally appeared on his website, “Rural System.” At the end of his working life, he self-published Rural Future: An Alternative for Society Before 2050 AD, edited by Laurel Sindewald. His daughter, Anne, wrote a tribute to him, Letter from the Universe, in March, 2022.

Is My Father Suffering?

Is my father suffering?

His brain is deteriorating from undiagnosed neurodegenerative diseases that result in a set of symptoms termed “dementia.”

Robert H. Giles, Jr.

He is able to make sounds but not to form words with his mouth. He is unable to focus his eyes. To the best of my ability to read my father after 63 years of knowing and speaking with him, to discern that he has awareness, and knowing his wishes should he develop dementia, my sister and I believe my brave father voluntarily and intentionally stopped eating and drinking 11 days ago.

When my father’s grandparents, parents, and step-mother became elderly, they went to nursing homes, were kept warm and dry, kept pain-free and distress-free with medications, and died as people do. In 2011, my mother died at home under my father’s care, supported by hospice. The stories of their deaths were sad, not harrowing.

Although my advance directive for dementia care is written in first person, its precision results from the saga of torment my father has endured as he has begun to decline. With an advance directive, with a supplemental directive for dementia care, at a highly-rated private  facility that provides compassionate, meticulous care, with a well-respected hospice service, my father has endured immeasurable suffering because he is only allowed to have certain medications, at particular doses, under some conditions, assessed by archaic measures, at specified intervals.

My phone is full of photos of his face in anguish, of him prostrate on the floor, scraping up the particulate matter created in his perception by his individual horror story of dementia-related psychosis.

Have you ever tried to *make* somebody do something? Try to make the current health care system give anti-psychotics, sedatives, anti-anxiety and pain medications, in sufficient doses with sufficient frequency, to its elderly citizens, stripped and helpless, distraught by the side of the road. Holding fast to ill-begotten beliefs that “Medicine is bad” and “Painkillers cause addiction,” the priest and the Levite fold their arms in disapproving righteousness as one of their kindest, most devoted citizens, Robert H. Giles, Jr., Virginia Tech Professor Emeritus, a former member of the U.S. Army Rangers reserves, grimaces in anguish, hand to his head.

Where is the Good Samaritan now, who sees reality and humanity as they are, unfiltered by dogma, and offers mercy?

I’ve heard one too many health care providers declare that my father isn’t aware of what he’s experiencing. Their statements, born of subjective, personal experience, perhaps based on practice wisdom and work experience, are hypotheses. They are not research data.

My father lies in a bed, nearly unable to move. He is shifted by staff members to prevent sores. He is given medication on a prescribed schedule. Today is Thursday. On Saturday, when I put my head on the ribs that have become his chest (What, does he weigh, half of his normal, fit, 200 lbs., maybe 100 lbs. now?), he reached his hand, fingers in a claw, to hold my head. On Monday, I watched and listened in horror as he sat straight up in bed, arms outstretched, crying out in wordless agony for air. We had to wait 15 more minutes for his next dose.

What does science say? Is the end-of-life brain comparable to the brain under anesthesia for surgery, the focus of much research on consciousness? Is the end-of-life brain with dementia, in an unknown pattern of decay and, therefore, of unknown functionality, comparable to a “normal” end-of-life brain? And what are the authoritative definitions of the terms we throw around: unresponsive, unconscious, unaware? How about “pain,” “distress,” “agitation,” “suffering”?

One of the last sentences my father, with great effort, uttered to me was: “I am worried about you.” The last word I made out when my sister and I were together with him was, “Wonderful.”

My father loved life and he loved us. Did my father sit straight up in bed due to an activated brain stem? Or, rather than lie in victimized, resigned silence, did he “not go gentle into that good night,” but protest, burning and raving at this forced closing of his life and love?

The only misstep my father took was trusting society and medical science to take care of him as an old man, as society and medical science took care of his parents, his grandparents, and my mother.

“What would Daddy do?” introduces a new level of belief-based dogma to the conversation. Daddy’s – anybody’s – beliefs, however wise they might be, are not facts and data. But my father explicitly asked me to write anything from his story that I thought would be helpful to others.

In this 2013 Radiolab interview with physicians – including reports on studies of interviews with many physicians – about their own ends of life, what did the vast majority of physicians ask for? No antibiotics, no restorative procedures or meds, no hospitals. Only thing they wanted? Pain meds.

How do I interpret all my observations and my reviews of the research literature?

All I can think to suggest is to take matters into your own hands while you can.

1) Hire an attorney to write the most comprehensive AND specific advance directive possible in your state or nation.

2) Create a supplemental advance directive for dementia care by copying and pasting into a Word or text doc the research-informed version I published on my blog here. Modify the text to suit your own values and situation, and run it by your loved ones, your designated health care agent, and your attorney.

3) Make an appointment with the physician you expect to give you end-of-life care. Take a copy of your advance directive and your supplemental advance directive for dementia care to the appointment, present them, and ask the physician if they will honor your wishes.

In 2002, Perkin and Resnick wrote, “These patients [at the end of life who are gasping for breath] have some level of brain activity and it is at least possible that they can feel pain and suffer. Given this lack of certainty, we believe that the morally most defensible position is to err on the side of relieving possible pain and suffering instead of erring on the side of not relieving pain and suffering. There is a great deal we do not know about human sensation, awareness and, nociception, the noxious sensation of pain as such, without regard to its emotional significance.”

Ask your physician if they will have mercy and “err on the side of relieving possible pain and suffering instead of erring on the side of not relieving pain and suffering.” Watch their faces as you listen to their answers. Granted, your reading of their faces and words isn’t scientific data. I hypothesize your observations, however, will speak volumes.

4) Make an appointment with the assisted living facility at which you expect to receive end-of-life care. Take a copy of your advance directive and your supplemental advance directive for dementia care to the meeting, present them, and ask the facility’s representative if they will honor your wishes. Again, as you watch and listen, collect your own case study data.

5) Make an appointment with the hospice service with which you expect to receive end-of-life care. Repeat.

6) Be brave. Don’t turn away. As my father would say, “Do the best you can.”

It is now 5:45 AM on Thursday. We have an agreement that I will be messaged if my father seems near death. I check my phone. No messages. My father lives.

Is my father suffering?

Oh, Daddy. I am so sorry.. . . . .

Update 6/15/22

My dear father, Robert H. Giles, Jr., died 5/5/22. Here is his obituary.

“Increasingly, people of all ages are concerned about their own future dying experience, especially after having witnessed the prolonged and sometimes horrific deaths of loved ones occurring in institutional settings across the United States…Consequently, a growing disparity remains between individual desires to die well, on one’s own terms, and the reality of how people actually die in the United States.”
Black and Cskikai, 2014

All content on this site is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical, professional, and/or legal advice. Consult a qualified professional for personalized medical, professional, and legal advice.

A Research-Informed Protest Against Reliance Upon Vital Signs to Assess Pain in Dementia

Dementia” is the term for a set of symptoms resulting from brain-damaging diseases such as Alzheimer’s and others. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a primary symptom of dementia is “difficulty speaking, understanding and expressing thoughts.”

When people with dementia are in pain, they are likely to be unable to describe what type of pain they are experiencing, what hurts, or how it hurts. Research has found a high prevalence of pain in dementia. Further, researchers have found that, in dementia, pain is perceived and processed differently. According to a 2021 study by Bunk et al., for individuals with a dementia-related cognitive impairment, “pain processing seems to be heightened in dementia,” resulting in “amplified pain responses.”

We need to help each other

Although other pain assessment scales are available, in assisted living facilities and among hospice providers, the primary measure of pain in dementia patients is the use of vital signs. According to Wikipedia, “There are four primary vital signs: body temperature, blood pressure, pulse (heart rate), and breathing rate (respiratory rate).”

Since dementia patients are unable to speak, treatment providers assume that elevated vital signs indicate the presence of distress or pain.

Science has reported for more than a decade that reliance on vital signs to assess pain is no less than cruelty.

I protest. On behalf of science and humanity, I protest.

Do no harm.

Excerpt from a 2007 interview with Catherine A. Marco, MD, FACEP, author of the 2006 study, Self-reported pain scores in the emergency department: lack of association with vital signs – my bold:

The study disproves a longstanding belief in emergency medicine: that pain is associated with abnormal vital signs, says Catherine A. Marco, MD, FACEP…”We have all heard people say, ‘I don’t believe that the patient is really in pain, because the vital signs are normal. If they were really in pain, they would be tachycardic or hypertensive,'” she says. “We showed that is not true, and that many patients in significant pain have normal vital signs.”

Indeed, Daust el al., in a 2015 report on a study of 153,567 patients,  stated unequivocally – my bold: “Health care professionals cannot use vital signs to estimate or substantiate self-reported pain intensity levels or changes over time.

In dementia caregiving, a false dichotomy is cited between “agitation” and “pain.” However, according to Kaufmann et al., in their 2021 study, Pain and Associated Neuropsychiatric Symptoms in Patients Suffering from Dementia: Challenges at Different Levels and Proposal of a Conceptual Framework – my bold: “There is accumulating evidence that in non-communicating patients with advanced dementia observable neuropsychiatric symptoms (e.g., depression, agitation, restlessness, writhing, vocalizations, etc.) should not only be considered as ‘pure’ psychiatric sequelae of neurodegeneration, but as manifestations of unrecognized pain.”

Excerpts from additional studies, listed in chronological order:

“A lack of any meaningful correlation between pain scores and changes in vital signs in this population [adult patients treated by paramedics] demonstrates that these signs cannot be used to validate the severity of pain reported by adult patients.”
– Lord et al., The reliability of vital signs in estimating pain severity among adult patients treated by paramedics, 2009

“Findings regarding the use of vital signs for pain assessment are not consistent and should be considered with caution. As recommended by experts, vital signs should only be used as a cue when behavioural indicators are no longer available in mechanically ventilated or unconscious patients.”
– Arbour et al., Are vital signs valid indicators for the assessment of pain in postoperative cardiac surgery ICU adults?, 2009

“Recent literature demonstrates that pain in patients with dementia is often undertreated…Subjective reports are the most valid approach for the assessment of the subjective experience of pain and should therefore be preferred over other methods.”
– Bornemann-Cimenti et al., Pain assessment in patients with dementia, 2012

“Given this lack of certainty, we believe that the morally most defensible position is to err on the side of relieving possible pain and suffering instead of erring on the side of not relieving pain and suffering. There is a great deal we do not know about human sensation, awareness and, nociception, the noxious sensation of pain as such, without regard to its emotional significance…Finally, failure properly to manage pain – to assess, treat, and manage it – is professional negligence.”
Perkin and Resnick, 2002

“Nursing assistants’ perception of pain is based on ethical concerns and on their own subjective pain experiences rather than on medical skills.”
– Karlsson et al., Certified nursing assistants’ perception of pain in people with dementia: a hermeneutic enquiry in dementia care practice, 2013

“Individuals with neurological disorders such as dementia are susceptible patient groups in which pain is frequently under-recognised, underestimated, and undertreated…The systematic study of facial expressions through a computerised system has identified core features that are highly specific to the experience of pain.”
– Hadjistavropoulos et al., 2014, Pain assessment in elderly adults with dementia

“The commonly held (but incorrect) belief that people
with cognitive impairment feel and experience less pain
contributes to a significantly greater risk of underassessment and undertreatment of pain in people with dementia.”
– Molton et al., Overview of persistent pain in older adults, 2014

“Behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia such as agitation and aggression often arise as a result of underlying pain.”
– Lichtner et al., Pain assessment for people with dementia: a systematic review of systematic reviews of pain assessment tools, 2014

“Family caregivers may help in the identification of pain-related behaviours and should be more involved in the ICU pain assessment process. Fluctuations in vital signs should only be considered as cues for further assessment of pain with appropriate tools, and may better represent adverse events of severe pain. Other physiologic measures of pain should be explored in the ICU, and pupillometry appears as a promising technique to further study.”
– Gelinas, Pain assessment in the critically ill adult: Recent evidence and new trends, 2016

“According to our study findings, vital signs are not strong indicators for pain assessment in neurosurgery ICU patients. However, HR and RR can be used as cues when behavioral indicators are not valid in these unconscious patients.”
– Erden et al., Vital signs: Valid indicators to assess pain in intensive care unit patients? An observational, descriptive study, 2018

“Aim: Develop and evaluate the implementation of a protocol for comprehensive management of pain in advanced dementia.”
– Montoro-Lorite et al., Integrated Management of Pain in Advanced Dementia, 2020

“In their last 12 months, nursing homes residents with dementia suffer most common from restrictions in mobility, pain, and sleeping disorder.”
– Eisenmann et al., Palliative Care in Advanced Dementia, 2020

“Pain is usually communicated verbally, a skill that is increasingly lost in people with dementia. As a result, those affected suffer unnecessarily from treatable but unrecognized pain.”
– Achterberg et al. Pain in dementia, 2021

“Thus, only respiratory rate showed clinically significant increases during nociceptive procedures. Correlations of VS [vital signs] with self-reported pain (the gold standard measure) and behavioural pain scores were absent or weak (r< 0.30) suggesting their lack of validity for ICU pain assessment. Conclusions: This updated review dissuades the use of VS [vital signs] for ICU pain assessment. Consistent with SCCM [Society of Critical Care Medicine] practice guidelines, VS [vital signs] should only be used as cues for initiating further pain assessment with validated tools.”
– Shariri et al., The validity of vital signs for pain assessment in critically ill adults, 2022

“Of the AUs [facial action units] present, AU7 (eyelid tightening) was the most frequent facial expression (48.6%) detected, followed by AU43 (closing eyes; 42.9%) and AU6 (cheek raising; 42.1%) during severe pain. AU20 (horizontal mouth stretch) was the most predictive facial action of higher pain scores. Eye-related AUs (AU6, AU7, AU43) and brow-related AUs (AU4) were more common than mouth-related AUs (e.g., AU20, AU25) during higher pain intensities. No significant effect was found for age or gender. These findings offer further understanding of facial expressions during clinical pain in PLWD and confirm the usefulness of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled real-time analysis of the face as part of the assessment of pain in aged care clinical practice.”
– Atee et al., Faces of Pain in Dementia: Learnings From a Real-World Study Using a Technology-Enabled Pain Assessment Tool, 2022

On behalf of those with the symptoms of dementia, who suffer in anguish, wordlessly, unnecessarily, from treatable but unrecognized, unacknowledged pain, I protest.

All content on this site is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical, professional, and/or legal advice. Consult a qualified professional for personalized medical, professional, and legal advice.

My Advance Directive for Dementia Care

I wish to inform my health care providers, loved ones, health care surrogate, and health care agent of my treatment instructions in the event I lack capacity to give instructions myself. I am fully competent at this time. I have a separate, general advance directive in place, as well as a Durable Do Not Resuscitate Order.

I am a person with capacity and have considered all the options that are available to me. I value life very much, but I believe that to continue living in certain circumstances is worse than death. Quality of life is more important to me than the number of days I have left to live.

We have to be able to trust each other.

If I receive a diagnosis of a neurodegenerative disease causing symptoms termed “dementia,” and/or I develop dementia, I consider this situation a terminal condition and a terminal illness with no known cure or effective treatment.

Under the conditions imposed upon me by dementia, including loss of my ability to understand my thoughts, selfhood and meaning, my inability to communicate comprehensively with loved ones or care givers, and my physical dependence on others for all aspects of bodily care, continuing life has no value to me.

This advance directive for dementia care should be applied when my dementia has progressed to the point at which, in the opinion of my health care agent,

  1. I do not recognize my family members, loved ones, and friends, and/or
  2. I cannot remember their names, and/or
  3. I am not able to communicate well enough to make clear whether I recognize my friends and loved ones or remember them.

Under these conditions, unable to connect meaningfully with others, I would wish to die peacefully and as quickly as legally possible. I do not wish to extend my life or prolong the dying process. I want to avoid a drawn-out, prolonged dying that would involve needless, protracted suffering for me and for those I love, tire care givers, and burden health care system resources.

Death with dignity

I request mercy.

If the Commonwealth of Virginia adopts a “Medical Aid in Dying” provision, in the case of dementia, I request that my attending health care provider prescribe a controlled substance that will end my life in a humane and dignified manner. I have informed my family of my decision and taken their opinions into consideration.

I understand the full import of this request, and I expect to die when I take the controlled substance to be prescribed. I make this request voluntarily and without reservation, and I accept full moral responsibility for my actions.

If Medical Aid in Dying is unavailable, I wish to be allowed to die by voluntary stopping of eating and drinking (VSED).

I intend that my health care agent alone be the one to determine whether I have reached the state to stop eating and drinking. I authorize my health care agent to take any legal action necessary to enforce my choice to die from voluntary stopping and eating (VSED).

If I begin to struggle to breathe at the end of life, develop dyspnea, am observed to develop “air hunger,” and/or develop prolonged gasping respiration/agonal respiration, I consider this intractable suffering from a futile autoresuscitative mechanism and brainstem reflex. In addition to receiving analgesics and sedatives and being fully medicated for stress, distress, and pain, I request administration of a neuromuscular blocking agent.

Cessation of life-prolonging treatment

If I am unable to make informed decisions about my health, and I am unable to feed myself, I want all medications and treatments that might prolong my life to be withheld or, if already begun, to be withdrawn, including the provision of nutrition and hydration, whether provided artificially, medically, or by assisted oral feeding.

I wish to receive the best available palliative and hospice care and to refuse any medical treatment that would serve only to postpone my death, including, for example, vaccines, antibiotics, or other antimicrobial drugs, antiarrythmics, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, blood transfusions, or any artificial or mechanical means of life support.

Oral feeding

As a human adult, feeding myself is a vital human function and I am naturally able to feed myself. If I am unable to feed myself or need assistance feeding myself, my life has run its course. Being unable to eat and drink naturally occurs during the process of dying and I need to be allowed to die.

Although others may consider such measures personal care or comfort care, I consider oral feeding, spoon-feeding, and/or hand-feeding to be forms of medical treatment, medical procedures, and health care procedures and require the patient’s consent.

I consider oral feeding and hydration unnatural, artificial feeding. Further, I consider oral feeding a violation of my bodily and existential integrity, privacy, and liberty.

Today, while I am competent, I withhold my consent to oral feeding and hydration. I specifically direct that oral feeding and hydration NOT be provided to me under the following circumstances.

If I am unable to feed myself or need assistance, and/or appear indifferent to being fed, do not willingly open my mouth, or expel, dribble out, or spit out foods or liquids, turn my head away when offered food or drink, hold food in my mouth or have the remains of food in my mouth after eating, and/or I cough, choke, gag, and/or aspirate food or liquid, I request I be allowed to die naturally by not eating or drinking. Specifically, when I am unable to feed myself or when I need assistance feeding myself, I wish to be allowed to die by voluntary stopping of eating and drinking (VSED).

No matter what my condition appears to be, I do not want to be encouraged, persuaded, cajoled, harassed, pushed, or forced to eat or drink. I do not want food or fluid to be held near my mouth to provoke me to open my mouth reflexively. Even if I appear willing to accept food or fluid offered by assisted or hand-feeding, my instructions are that I do NOT want to be fed by hand even if I appear to cooperate in being fed by opening my mouth.

I do not want the reflexive opening of my mouth to be interpreted as giving my consent to being fed or given drink, nor misinterpreted as a desire for food or drink. I request that spoons, other feeding implements, or cups not be touched to my lips or mouth. If I open my mouth, this is not a signal that I want food or drink. I consider this a sign of the “rooting reflex,” or the “suck reflex,” a primitive frontal release sign of the brain and nervous system that involves facial nerves. This reflex occurs automatically in infants and, in adults, is a sign of brain damage and neurological dysfunction.

If I hold food in my mouth or particles of food remain in my mouth, I consider this dysphagia, a common symptom of dementia and a sign of irreparable damage to the brain centers that control cranial nerves involved with swallowing. Food remaining in my mouth is abnormal, uncomfortable, and puts me at risk of coughing, choking, and/or aspirating food particles and saliva into my lungs. Under these circumstances, I request no oral feeding.

I would like my lips and inner surfaces of my mouth and gums to be kept moistened to minimize discomfort. Moistening of my lips to keep them comfortable should not be considered a form of unrequested hydration.

Given that any other advance directive voluntarily signed while I am competent is honored after I lack capacity, even if I would die as a result, I request that my wishes regarding oral feeding be treated the same.

Alleviation of stress, distress, pain, anxiety, agitation, sleep disruption, and insomnia

I ask to receive good hygiene and other measures to assure comfort.

In a person with dementia, the configuration of destruction in the brain is unknowable. As the brain deteriorates, future configurations would also be unknowable. How these configurations would respond to medications is knowable only in the realm of possibility or probability, not certainty.

Regardless, I wish to receive the highest doses possible of the most effective medications at maximum frequency for relief of any signs of stress, distress, pain, anxiety, agitation, sleep disruption, and/or insomnia. Further, I want to receive medications in maximum dosages and with maximum frequency, including in excess of recommended dosages, to assure effective relief of emotional, mental, psychological, existential, and/or physical suffering even if this means I might sleep all the time, even though I might eat less or nothing, and even though such medications might shorten my life.

Since dysphagia – difficulty swallowing – is a common symptom of dementia, I ask that this symptom be anticipated. I ask that medications be prescribed or compounded in liquid form as early as possible so I do not have to abruptly cease taking, or to taper from, helpful medications.

Since vital signs can remain stable during intense pain, vital signs are NOT an effective measure of pain in dementia patients. I ask that my pain, discomfort, and distress symptoms be monitored with pain and/or distress tools and scales developed by scientists for this purpose. As of this writing (2022), possibilities include the Abbey Pain Scale, PAINAD, and ePAT, although, as of 2014, no gold standard existed.  I request that medications be increased or altered when I show pain or distress, even if I am already taking medications in high doses.

I ask that medication tolerance be monitored. For some medications used in palliative care, the brain and body adjust and the medications become ineffectual.

If and when my mental, emotional, existential, and/or physical distress becomes refractory, i.e. distress persists despite high-quality, aggressive palliative care, I request palliative sedation, the use of medications to induce decreased or absent awareness in order to relieve intractable suffering at the end of life. I request palliative sedation even if I do not appear to be in physical pain. I consider palliative sedation to be distinct from assisted dying. Studies suggest that survival time is not significantly affected by palliative sedation.

I request that reassurance be given to my care givers that giving me medications, even in high doses, is giving me care. I do not fear addiction (continued use despite negative consequences), nor dependence (presence of symptoms when the medication is decreased or absent, tapered or withdrawn), nor palliative sedation.

I consider medications wondrous discoveries and inventions of science and wish to avail myself of the assistance of medications as fully as possible.

I understand that inaction and medications may cause constipation, a major consideration for those giving end-of-life care. I appreciate efforts to prevent what may be a painful or dangerous condition for me. Having done a cost-benefit analysis with rank ordering, I value the likelihood of medications providing relief from mental and physical suffering caused by dementia more highly than the possibility that medications may cause suffering through constipation or bowel damage. I ask that constipation or bowel damage not be a consideration when the dosage and frequency of pain and distress relief medications are decided.

Use of suppositories and/or insertion of a urinary catheter are disallowed medical procedures and require the direct consent of my health care agent.


In the case of dementia, because my quality of life and my mental functioning will have declined significantly, with no hope of improvement, I wish to die as soon as possible.

I do not want others to substitute their choices for mine because they disagree with my decisions or because they think their choices are in my best interests. I do not want my intentions to be rejected because someone thinks that if I had more information when I signed this document, or if I had achieved certain spiritual or religious understandings, or if I had known certain medical facts that developed later, I would change my mind.

I want the instructions in this directive followed even if the person who has the right to make decisions for me and my caregivers judge, in their perception, that my quality of life is satisfactory and I appear to them to be comfortable. Their wishes may not supersede mine. I have given considerable thought to these decisions and want my wishes to be followed.

I insist that nothing I say or do be deemed a revocation of this advance directive unless I revoke it in writing at a time when I have the mental capacity to make and revoke an advance directive.

I ask that any health care institution providing treatment for me maintain all my advance directives in my chart and document prominently that these advance directives are in place, as required by national and state law.

I ask that my health care institution charge me and other funding sources fees high enough to pay my caregivers at the highest level of pay commensurate with their training and experience. Caregivers are using valuable, irreplaceable time in their own lives to help me with my life. I deeply value this. I ask that my health care institution pay for continuing education – including wages for the time it takes to complete the training – so my caregivers will know the latest science on caring for people in my condition.

I ask that the health care institution’s management review these documents and determine if the health care institution has any policy against the enforcement of their terms. If so, I ask that I be transferred to an appropriate health care institution that does not have such a policy and will honor my wishes.

. . . . .

The primary source for this document is my first-hand experience with being unable to secure the honoring of the wishes of my father, Robert H. Giles, Jr.. He suffers from undiagnosed neurodegenerative brain diseases that cause the set of symptoms termed “dementia.”

My sister and I are my father’s designated health agents and I am his primary dementia care coordinator. My father has an advance medical directive and a supplemental document expressly stating his wishes in the case of dementia. Here are excerpts from that document, first signed in 1996: “If I get Alzheimer’s disease or related diseases or disability, I need to die as soon as possible. I want this to occur. I want assistance in any and all ways possible that will not endanger family or friends or jeopardize them for court action…I’m writing what is my desire now since I believe that when I am in the last stages of illness I cannot decide anything. I need help in stopping my life when the appropriate time comes. Hard to know when such time has come, I believe it will be when any 3 people who know me think (expressed by their expert judgement) that I am operating mentally at less than 70% of my normal mental function.”

The primary sources of contention – and why these portions are highlighted in my advance directive above – are:

  1. Receiving effective medications, including anti-psychotics and opioids, early enough, and in sufficient doses, to ease mental and physical suffering including anguish-producing psychosis, hallucinations and delusions.
  2. Definitions of “suffering.”
  3. Definitions of, and measurement of, “pain,” including the documented inadequate management of pain in dementia patients, unknown pain caused by brain decay, and the unknown, possible alteration in pain perception caused by brain decay.
  4. Archaic use of vital signs to measure pain. See, for example, Daoust et al., 2016 (!): “Health care professionals cannot use vital signs to estimate or substantiate self-reported pain intensity levels or changes over time.”
  5. Spoon-feeding.

My father trusted society to honor his clearly- and directly-stated wishes. He could not know that nearly thirty years later, in 2022, society would have become ascientific about medications and would prioritize prolonging life over relieving suffering.

My father asked me to share any parts of his story that might help others. I also wrote this:

Update: My brave father died on May 5, 2022. Here is his obituary.

A selection of sources consulted follows. They are not in alphabetical order and not in accord with APA or other citation style guides. Some include excerpts. 

“One option for ensuring that one does not live years in severe dementia is to use advance directives to withhold food and water by mouth. The driving element behind voluntary stopping of eating and drinking (VSED) is that forcing people to ingest food is as objectionable an intrusion on bodily integrity, privacy, and liberty as imposing unwanted medical treatment. Thus, if incompetent people do not lose their rights to refuse life-saving treatment, and if people when competent have just as strong a right to VSED as they do to refuse life-saving treatment, then people do not lose their right to VSED when incompetent either. They only have to exercise it by AD [advance directive].”
– Advance Directives, Dementia, and Withholding Food and Water by Mouth, Menzel et al., 2014

“Clinicians and health care societies have increasingly accepted voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED) as an appropriate end-of-life exit option. If capacitated patients may hasten their deaths with VSED, then incapacitated patients should be able to exercise that same choice through an advance directive or health care agent.”
Whether, When, and How to Honor Advance VSED Requests for End-Stage Dementia Patients, Pope, 2019

“Proponents view the practice [of VSED] as providing a humane exit option, particularly for dementia. Opponents see it as a denial of basic, morally obligatory care or as suicide. Still others focus on the clinical realities of institutional care and the practical difficulties involved in implementing ‘Do-Not-Spoon-Feed’ requests. Because VEN [Vermont Ethics Network] has started receiving inquiries about the practice, we discuss the issues it raises in greater detail below.”
Vermont Ethics Network, 2015

“Pain was the most common symptom (52%), followed by agitation (35%) and shortness of breath (35%). Pain and shortness of breath were mostly treated with opioids and agitation mainly with anxiolytics. At the day of death, 77% received opioids, with a median of 90 mg/24 hours (oral equivalents), and 21% received palliative sedation. Pain and agitation were associated with a lower QOL [quality of life]. Death from respiratory infection was associated with the largest symptom burden…Symptoms are common in dementia at the end of life, despite the large majority of residents receiving opioids. Dosages may be suboptimal with regard to weighing of effects and side effects.”
– Dying With Dementia: Symptoms, Treatment, and Quality of Life in the Last Week of Life, Hendricks et al., 2014

Causes and Signs of Untreated Pain in Dementia, Verywell Mind, 2021

On “a good death” and “dying well”

“Key to best practice end of life care are the actualization of human rights to dignity, autonomy, self-determination and respect for will and preferences, equitable access to quality health care that is needs-based, and respect for family and relationships…The human right to a good death and dying well is as important as the right to life. At stake at the end of life are human rights to dignity, autonomy, self-determination and respect for will and preferences, equitable access to quality health care that is needs-based, and respect for family and relationships. Older people with dementia, those with serious mental illness, and those with intellectual disability are vulnerable to ‘bad deaths’ due to violations of these rights.”
The Human Rights of Older People With Mental Health Conditions and Psychosocial Disability to a Good Death and Dying Well, Peisah et al., 2021

“Ten themes were identified, including pain-free status, peaceful/comfort, dignity, family presence, surrounded by familiar things and people, person-centered communication, spirituality, life completion, treatment preferences, and other.”
Defining a good death for people with dementia: A scoping review, Takahashi et al., 2021

“Common themes [describing ‘a good death’ or ‘dying well’] were dying at the preferred place, relief from pain and psychological distress, emotional support from loved ones, autonomous treatment decision making, avoidance of futile life-prolonging interventions and of being a burden to others, right to assisted suicide or euthanasia, effective communication with professionals, and performance of rituals.”
What would it take to die well? A systematic review of systematic reviews on the conditions for a good death, Zaman et al., 2021

“Participants perceived that there was ambiguity regarding a good death for PwD [patients with dementia] and emphasised the need for preparedness of those around PwD for a good death. Five categories represented preparedness: (a) reaffirming the original personality before dementia; (b) respecting that PwD change; (c) interpreting and fulfilling obscure desires, feelings, and sensations; (d) providing care consistent with an agreed-upon natural death process; and (e) maintaining relationships.”
Long-term care nurses’ perceptions of a good death for people with dementia: A qualitative descriptive study, Nasu et al., 2021

“We identified 11 core themes of good death: preferences for a specific dying process, pain-free status, religiosity/spiritualty, emotional well-being, life completion, treatment preferences, dignity, family, quality of life, relationship with HCP [health care providers], and other. The top three themes across all stakeholder groups were preferences for dying process (94% of reports), pain-free status (81%), and emotional well-being (64%).”
Defining a Good Death (Successful Dying): Literature Review and a Call for Research and Public Dialogue, Meier et al., 2016

“Core elements for a ‘good death’ included control of pain and symptoms, clear decision-making, feeling of closure, being seen and perceived as a person, preparation for death, and being still able to give something to others; whereas other factors such as culture, financial issues, religion, disease, age, and life circumstances were found to shape the concept across groups.”
– Patient’s Perspectives on the Notion of a Good Death: A Systematic Review of the Literature, Krikorian et al., 2020

“Class 1 results indicated health care providers’ ability to control patients’ pain to desired levels was most important (11.5%, 95% CI: 10.3%–12.6%), followed by clean, safe, and comfortable facilities (10.0%, 95% CI: 9.0%–11.0%); and kind and sympathetic health care providers (9.8%, 95% CI: 8.8%–10.9%).”
– What is a Good Death? A Choice Experiment on Care Indicators for Patients at End of Life, Sepulveda et al., 2022

When Her Husband Said He Wanted to Die, Amy Bloom Listened, New York Times, 2/27/22


Virginia is considering a death with dignity law.

Here is the Code of Virginia Article 8. Health Care Decisions Act.

Here is the Virginia Advance Health Care Directives Registry.

Here is the National Institute of Health’s guide to Legal and Financial Planning for People with Dementia.


On this site, I have written posts about being a dementia caregiver.

Last updated 7/2/22

All content on this site is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical, professional, and/or legal advice. Consult a qualified professional for personalized medical, professional, and legal advice.