Spouses don't know partners' end-of-life preferences, study finds

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Spouses tend to guess wrong about the end-of-life wishes of their loved ones, a new study suggests.

More than one-forth of people incorrectly identified their spouse's end-of-life care preferences, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin. Researchers examined responses from 2,750 married couples who participated in the 2004 Wisconsin Longitudinal Study.

A total of 28% of the married couples studied could not correctly say what their spouse would want if he or she were in great pain and had a low chance of survival. At least 14% were not able to match their spouse's requests if presented with a hypothetical situation in which the spouse was in minimal pain and cognitively impaired. How to account for the inaccuracies? One explanation is respondents may have been attempting to shield loved ones from potentially distressing concerns, researchers said.

The complete study report is available at http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/cde/cdewp/2007-05.pdf.