End-of-Life Care Fact Sheet

What are older adults' mental health needs near the end of life?

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed that Americans should expect palliative care, which combines active and compassionate therapies to comfort and support individuals and families nearing the end of life. End of life is defined as that time period when health care providers would not be surprised if death occurred within about 6 months. Older Americans with chronic illness think about how they would prefer their lives to end, and want a “good death” without burdensome pain, symptoms and technology.

Most deaths (70 percent) occur in those aged 65 and older. Older adults want better discussions, information, and a chance to influence decisions about their care — whether to be at home or in the hospital and to have CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) (Foley, 1995). Most Americans die in hospitals (63 percent), and another 17 percent die in institutional settings such as long-term care facilities (Foley, 1995; Isaacs & Knickman, 1997). In addition, most people are referred too late to hospice or palliative care, so they are unable to get the most benefit possible from these specialized services.

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