Most older adults don’t want to talk about the amount of time they have left, according to new research.
Investigators from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine presented 878 adults aged 65 or more years with a hypothetical scenario involving a patient with limited life expectancy who was not imminently dying. Study participants were asked, as the hypothetical patient, whether they would want to speak with a physician about how long they might have to live, whether it is acceptable for a physician to offer to talk about the topic, whether they would want the physician to discuss life expectancy with family or friends, and when life expectancy should be discussed.
Fifty-nine percent (515) of participants said they did not want to discuss their time remaining. Of them, 291 participants said they did not think that a physician should offer such discussion, and 450 said they did not want the physician to discuss life expectancy with their family or friends.
As the hypothetical patient’s estimated life expectancy increased, fewer study participants said that life expectancy should be discussed. In fact, 56% of participants (478) said they only wanted to discuss life expectancy if the amount of time left was less than two years.
Older adults with more education, or who believed that physicians can predict life expectancy, or who had had previous experiences with either a life-threatening illness or with discussing the life expectancy of a loved one, were more likely to want to discuss life expectancy. Those who said that religion is important to them were less likely to want to discuss life expectancy.
Results were published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine.