End-of-life care in nursing home settings: Do race or age matter?

UNC Project, Lilongwe, Malawi.
Palliative and Supportive Care (Impact Factor: 0.98). 04/2008; 6(1):21-7. DOI: 10.1017/S1478951508000047
Source: PubMed


One-quarter of all U.S. chronic-disease deaths occur in nursing homes, yet few studies examine palliative care quality in these settings. This study tests whether racial and/or age-based differences in end-of-life care exist in these institutional settings.
We abstracted residents' charts (N = 1133) in 12 nursing homes. Researchers collected data on indicators of palliative care in two domains of care--advance care planning and pain management--and on residents' demographic and health status variables. Analyses tested for differences by race and age.
White residents were more likely than minorities to have DNR orders (69.5% vs. 37.3%), living wills (39% vs. 5%), and health care proxies (36.2% vs. 11.8%; p < .001 for each). Advance directives were highly and positively correlated with age. In-depth advance care planning discussions between residents, families, and health care providers were rare for all residents, irrespective of demographic characteristics. Nursing staff considered older residents to have milder and less frequent pain than younger residents. We found no disparities in pain management based on race.
To the extent that advance care planning improves care at the end of life, racial minorities in nursing homes are disadvantaged compared to their white fellow residents. Focusing on in-depth discussions of values and goals of care can improve palliative care for all residents and may help to ameliorate racial disparities in end-of-life care. Staff should consider residents of all ages as appropriate recipients of advance care planning efforts and should be cognizant of the fact that individuals of all ages can experience pain. Nursing homes may do a better job than other health care institutions in eliminating racial disparities in pain management.

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    • "If provision of palliative care is expanded to patients with non-malignant diagnoses, something which is widely advocated [30,32,33], the differences between age groups, and specifically the ‘undertreatment’ of the oldest, should disappear. This is of course assuming that the lower incidence of pain and symptom alleviation in older patients is a sign of undertreatment; hypotheses explaining the age disparity in palliative care consumption include the suggestion that pain and other symptoms are less often recognised in elderly patients [8,21,34], that elderly patients are less able to report them [16,33] or that they have learned to cope with long-term pain [35,36]. These hypotheses seem to be disproved by our data; the issue should be investigated more deeply. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background A growing body of scientific research is suggesting that end-of-life care and decision making may differ between age groups and that elderly patients may be the most vulnerable to exclusion of due care at the end of life. This study investigates age-related disparities in the rate of end-of-life decisions with a possible or certain life shortening effect (ELDs) and in the preceding decision making process in Flanders, Belgium in 2007, where euthanasia was legalised in 2002. Comparing with data from an identical survey in 1998 we also study the plausibility of the ‘slippery slope’ hypothesis which predicts a rise in the rate of administration of life ending drugs without patient request, especially among elderly patients, in countries where euthanasia is legal. Method We performed a post-mortem survey among physicians certifying a large representative sample (n = 6927) of death certificates in 2007, identical to a 1998 survey. Response rate was 58.4%. Results While the rates of non-treatment decisions (NTD) and administration of life ending drugs without explicit request (LAWER) did not differ between age groups, the use of intensified alleviation of pain and symptoms (APS) and euthanasia/assisted suicide (EAS), as well as the proportion of euthanasia requests granted, was bivariately and negatively associated with patient age. Multivariate analysis showed no significant effects of age on ELD rates. Older patients were less often included in decision making for APS and more often deemed lacking in capacity than were younger patients. Comparison with 1998 showed a decrease in the rate of LAWER in all age groups except in the 80+ age group where the rate was stagnant. Conclusion Age is not a determining factor in the rate of end-of-life decisions, but is in decision making as patient inclusion rates decrease with old age. Our results suggest there is a need to focus advance care planning initiatives on elderly patients. The slippery slope hypothesis cannot be confirmed either in general or among older people, as since the euthanasia law fewer LAWER cases were found.
    BMC Public Health 06/2012; 12(1):447. DOI:10.1186/1471-2458-12-447 · 2.26 Impact Factor

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