Social and clinical determinants of preferences and their achievement at the end of life: prospective cohort study of older adults receiving palliative care in three countries

Irene J. Higginson, Barbara A. Daveson, R Sean Morrison, Deokhee Yi, Diane Meier, Melinda Smith, Karen Ryan, Regina McQuillan, Bridget M Johnston, Charles Normand, BuildCARE

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BACKGROUND: Achieving choice is proposed as a quality marker. But little is known about what influences preferences especially among older adults. We aimed to determine and compare, across three countries, factors associated with preferences for place of death and treatment, and actual site of death.

METHODS: We recruited adults aged ≥65-years from hospital-based multiprofessional palliative care services in London, Dublin, New York, and followed them for >17 months. All services offered consultation on hospital wards, support for existing clinical teams, outpatient services and received funding from their National Health Service and/or relevant Insurance reimbursements. The New York service additionally had 10 inpatient beds. All worked with and referred patients to local hospices. Face-to-face interviews recorded most and least preferred place of death, treatment goal priorities, demographic and clinical information using validated questionnaires. Multivariable and multilevel analyses assessed associated factors.

RESULTS: One hundred and thirty eight older adults (64 London, 59 Dublin, 15 New York) were recruited, 110 died during follow-up. Home was the most preferred place of death (77/138, 56%) followed by inpatient palliative care/hospice units (22%). Hospital was least preferred (35/138, 25%), followed by nursing home (20%) and home (16%); hospice/palliative care unit was rarely least preferred (4%). Most respondents prioritised improving quality of life, either alone (54%), or equal with life extension (39%); few (3%) chose only life extension. There were no significant differences between countries. Main associates with home preference were: cancer diagnosis (OR 3.72, 95% CI 1.40-9.90) and living with someone (OR 2.19, 1.33-3.62). Adults with non-cancer diagnoses were more likely to prefer palliative care units (OR 2.39, 1.14-5.03). Conversely, functional independence (OR 1.05, 1.04-1.06) and valuing quality of life (OR 3.11, 2.89-3.36) were associated with dying at home. There was a mismatch between preferences and achievements - of 85 people who preferred home or a palliative care unit, 19 (25%) achieved their first preference.

CONCLUSION: Although home is the most common first preference, it is polarising and for 16% it is the least preferred. Inpatient palliative care unit emerges as the second most preferred place, is rarely least preferred, and yet was often not achieved for those who wanted to die there. Factors affecting stated preferences and met preferences differ. Available services, notably community support and palliative care units, require expansion. Contrasting actual place of death with capacity for meeting patient and family needs may be a better quality indicator than simply 'achieved preferences'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number271
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
Early online date23 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • Journal Article


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