New Study Is First To Look Beyond General Attitudes About End-Of-Life Options And Ask Older People What They Would Do

March 11, 1997

WASHINGTON, D.C.--It used to be that when you had a life-threatening illness you waited it out. Nowadays you have options. A new study in the just-released March issue of Psychology and Aging, published by the American Psychological Association (APA), looks at the factors that influence older adults end-of-life decisions.

Psychologist Victor Cicirelli, Ph.D., from Purdue University asked 388 older adults (ages 60 to 100) to respond to 17 different situations about end-of-life options. Each scenario depicted either a terminal or nonterminal condition accompanied by a low quality of life. Approximately one-third of the participants wanted someone else -- a family member, close friend or physician -- to make their end-of-life decision.

Why? Dr. Cicirelli believes that older adults have been socialized to see physicians as authority figures and may not feel that they can make their own decisions about their end-of-life options. Thus, they defer the decision to their physician. Another explanation is an older person's tendency to think that a family member will make decisions for them if needed. "An additional factor," says Dr. Cicirelli, "is the personality of these older individuals, particularly their belief that powerful others control their destiny."

"Earlier studies on end-of-life decisions looked at general attitudes about the options. My study asked older adults what they would do in situations where they had reduced ability to move, were dependent on someone else, were in pain and so forth. The results imply that older adults want the options, but a majority would rather live than end their life," says Dr. Cicirelli.

Other results of the study revealed that a minority (approximately one-tenth of the study participants) did want to end their life under low quality conditions, but there was no preference about which method they would use (suicide, assisted suicide or voluntary active euthanasia).

Dr. Cicirelli's research also found that the factors that influence older people's views regarding the various decision options at the end-of-life are not the same as those that influence suicide. Well-being, poor health, dependency, stress due to critical life events and lack of social support, all precursors of suicide, were unrelated to decisions to end life in these scenarios.

Article: "Relationship of Psychosocial and Background Variables to Older Adults' End-of-Life Decisions" by Victor G. Cicirelli, Ph.D., Purdue University, in Psychology and Aging, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 72-83.

(Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)


The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 142,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 49 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.
-end-


American Psychological Association

Related Aging Articles from Brightsurf:

Surprises in 'active' aging
Aging is a process that affects not only living beings.

Aging-US: 'From Causes of Aging to Death from COVID-19' by Mikhail V. Blagosklonny
Aging-US recently published ''From Causes of Aging to Death from COVID-19'' by Blagosklonny et al. which reported that COVID-19 is not deadly early in life, but mortality increases exponentially with age - which is the strongest predictor of mortality.

Understanding the effect of aging on the genome
EPFL scientists have measured the molecular footprint that aging leaves on various mouse and human tissues.

Muscle aging: Stronger for longer
With life expectancy increasing, age-related diseases are also on the rise, including sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass due to aging.

Aging memories may not be 'worse, 'just 'different'
A study from the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences adds nuance to the idea that an aging memory is a poor one and finds a potential correlation between the way people process the boundaries of events and episodic memory.

A new biomarker for the aging brain
Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research (BDR) in Japan have identified changes in the aging brain related to blood circulation.

Scientists invented an aging vaccine
A new way to prevent autoimmune diseases associated with aging like atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease was described in the article.

The first roadmap for ovarian aging
Infertility likely stems from age-related decline of the ovaries, but the molecular mechanisms that lead to this decline have been unclear.

Researchers discover new cause of cell aging
New research from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering could be key to our understanding of how the aging process works.

Deep Aging Clocks: The emergence of AI-based biomarkers of aging and longevity
The advent of deep biomarkers of aging, longevity and mortality presents a range of non-obvious applications.

Read More: Aging News and Aging Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.