Elderly people would welcome living wills

June 15, 2000

Views of elderly people on living wills: interview study

Over 70% of elderly people in the UK are interested in making a living will and most have clear views on the issues raised by them, reveals a study in this week's BMJ.

In the first study of its kind in the UK, researchers at Imperial College School of Medicine, London interviewed 74 elderly patients, aged between 66 and 97 years, at two British hospitals. Despite little previous knowledge of written wills, the researchers found that many older people were interested in the concept of recording their healthcare wishes to make their views known and to relieve the burden of decisions on their family.

Overall, 92% of participants indicated when they would no longer wish their lives to be prolonged by medical interventions. Many disabilities were unacceptable to participants - many stating that they would prefer "comfort only" care to active treatment, even if they might die. Interestingly, women were less likely than men to request active treatment options in such circumstances. The most feared condition was advanced dementia, the least was being in a wheelchair. At the end stage of a terminal disease, 94% said they would refuse surgery, 93% artificial feeding, 92% ventilation and 90% cardiac resuscitation.

In conclusion, the authors suggest that a living will, specially designed for elderly people, may be appropriate and is currently being prepared.

Rebekah Schiff, Clinical Research Fellow, Imperial College School of Medicine, Hammersmith Hospital, London W12 0NN Email: rebekah@rspscomp.demon.co.uk


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