“We’ve put a lot of work into this and it’s not yielding what we thought it should be yielding. So what do we do now?” asked Dr. Joanne Lynn, a study author who directs the Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness at the Altarum Institute.
The study looked at 7,204 patients who died while enrolled in the national Health and Retirement study, a survey of Americans over age 50. After each participant’s death, a family member was asked questions about the person’s end-of-life experience, including whether the person suffered pain, depression or periodic confusion. Those three symptoms were all found to have become more prevalent over the 10-year analysis.
One reason, Lynn said, is that doctors are using a greater range of high-tech treatments, which can lengthen the process of dying without curing the patient. “We throw more medical treatment at patients who are on their way to dying, which keeps them in a difficult situation for much, much longer,” she said. “We’ve increased the number of people put on ventilators and kept in hospitals, and we simply have more treatments that are possible to offer.”