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Discussions by Elders and Adult Children About End-of-Life Preparation and Preferences
  • Published Date:
    Dec 15 2007
  • Source:
    Prev Chronic Dis. 2008; 5(1).
Filetype[PDF-404.26 KB]

  • Alternative Title:
    Prev Chronic Dis
  • Description:

    In the United States, 73% of deaths occur among people aged 65 years or older. Although most would prefer to die at home after a short illness, most actually die in institutions after prolonged declines. Despite this discrepancy, elders and their adult children often do not discuss end-of-life preferences. Use of advance directives has not been widespread, and people often avoid the subject until a crisis. This project focused on informal family communication about end-of-life preparation and preferences, about which little is known.


    In May 2006, we conducted in-depth exploratory interviews with 15 older adults about their end-of-life preparation and preferences and with 15 younger adults about their parents' end-of-life preparation and preferences. The interview included an item rating the depth of discussion.


    Participants in both groups were primarily female and white. Mean age of older adults was 78.6 years (range, 70–88 years). Mean age of younger adults was 53.1 years (range, 42–63 years); mean age of their parents was 82.6 years (range, 68–99 years). Nine older adults reported discussing end-of-life preparation and preferences with their adult children; six had barely discussed the topic at all. Ten younger adults reported having talked with their parents about end-of-life preparation and preferences; five had not discussed it. Barriers to discussions about end-of-life preparation and preferences were fear of death, trust in others to make decisions, family dynamics, and uncertainty about preferences. Facilitators for discussion were acceptance of the reality of death, prior experience with death, religion or spirituality, and a desire to help the family. Successful strategies included casually approaching the topic and writing down end-of-life preparation and preferences.


    Knowing the obstacles to and facilitators for discussion can help health care and public health professionals target approaches to encouraging elders and their families to discuss end-of-life preparation and preferences before a crisis.

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