Advance directives reach record levels, but this does not lead to more hospice use, researchers find

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Seniors are completing advance directives in record numbers, but this is not having the expected effect of shifting people from hospitals to hospices in their last days, say researchers from the University of Michigan and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System. 

About 47% of elderly people had completed a living will as of 2000, and that increased to 72% by 2010, according to data from the Health and Retirement Study. This is a national survey done by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, on behalf of the National Institute of Aging.

However, during that same period, hospitalization rates increased in the last two years of life, the investigators found. The proportion of people dying in the hospital did decrease from 45% to 35%, but the researchers determined this had little to do with advance directives. This could be because directives focus more on the type of care rather than the setting where it is provided, they surmised.

“These are really devices that ensure people's preferences get respected, not devices that can control whether a person chooses to be hospitalized before death," said lead researcher Maria Silveira, M.D., MA, MPH.

Among those who have completed a living will, most have both explained their treatment preferences and appointed a surrogate to make care decisions for them, according to the findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Advance directives commonly cover extreme decisions such as use of feeding tubes, but they do not provide much guidance for “gray area” end-of-life choices, such as when to administer antibiotics, another recent study found.
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