Elderly Persons' Last Six Months of Life

Findings from the Hospitalized Elderly Longitudinal Project

Published in: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, v. 48, no. 5, suppl., May 2000, p. S131-S139

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2000

by Emese Somogyi-Zalud, Zhenshao Zhong, Joanne Lynn, Mary Beth Hamel

BACKGROUND: Few studies describe the end of life in very old people. OBJECTIVES: To characterize the last 6 months of life and dying in patients 80 years and older by describing demographic characteristics, functional state and quality of life, symptoms, preferences, use of life-sustaining treatments, satisfaction with care, and family burden. DESIGN: A retrospective analysis for patients enrolled in a prospective cohort study. SETTING: Four teaching hospitals who participated in the Hospitalized Elderly Longitudinal Project (HELP). SUBJECTS: 417 patients who died within 1 year of their enrollment hospitalization. MEASUREMENTS: Chart reviews and interview data with patients and surrogates at several points in time. The authors constructed four observational time windows backward in time beginning with the patients' death. RESULTS: Before hospitalization, two out of three patients reported fair quality of life, and patients averaged 2.4 impairments in activities of daily living. Seventy percent preferred comfort care on the third day of hospitalization. During the last month of life, three of five patients interviewed in the hospital and four of five interviewed out of the hospital preferred not to be resuscitated. At the time of death, four of five patients had a do not resuscitate (DNR) order and two of five had an order to withhold a ventilator. During the last month of life, one out of four patients reported severe pain. CONCLUSIONS: Patients reported increasing functional impairments and limited quality of life. The majority preferred comfort care. The number of patients in severe pain was substantial. Before death, the majority had measures in place to limit aggressive care.

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