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New study reveals attitudes to death among elderly

New study reveals attitudes to death among elderly
29th April 2016

New research has suggested that more people should be having conversations with their elderly relatives about end-of-life care.

Conducted by the University of Cambridge and published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study found that many people over 95 years old are willing to talk about dying and their preferences for end-of-life care but are often not asked.

With an ageing population, it's important that people are willing to have these conversations to ensure elderly relatives get the care they want and deserve when they need it. Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the number of people over the age of 90 when they die has more than tripled in the past three decades in the UK.

Dr Jane Fleming, from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge and leader of the study, said although there has been a "dramatic rise" in the number of people living into very old age, there is far too little discussion about how they feel about the end of their lives.

“We know very little, too, about the difficult decisions concerning their end of life care,” she said.

Part-funded by the National Institute for Health Research, the study interviewed 33 people over 95 years old from the Cambridge City over-75s Cohort or a nominated proxy - a close relative or care worker - asking about their attitudes towards death, dying and end-of-life care.

The study found that most people were not afraid of death and this was partly influenced by having positive experiences of others’ dying. However, it revealed that many relatives and care workers reported not talking about death with their families.

When talking about life-threatening illnesses, the research found that few people wanted to be admitted into hospital, but often family members weren't aware of their loved one's preferences on this subject.

Dr Fleming said: "To plan services to best support rising numbers of people dying at increasingly older ages we need to understand their priorities as they near the end of life.”

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