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End-of-Life Care Planning Eases Stress for Relatives

Advance directive improves odds that wishes will be followed, study shows

WEDNESDAY, March 24 (HealthDay News) -- Planning for care at the end of life can make things easier for people as they die, while reducing stress and depression among loved ones, new research suggests.

With advance care planning, often through documents known as "living wills," people set down how they would like to be treated at the end of their lives. They can pinpoint the kinds of medical and resuscitation services they prefer and appoint people to serve as their surrogate decision makers.

However, researchers have noted that there have been no randomized studies about whether such advance directives actually improve care when people are dying.

In the new study, published online March 24 in BMJ, researchers led by Dr. Karen Detering at Austin Health in Heidelberg, Australia, followed 309 patients, aged 80 years or older, who were admitted to the hospital between 2007 and 2008. Of those, 154 received assistance with advance care planning.

Within six months, 56 of the patients died. The study authors found that end-of-life wishes were known and followed in 86 percent of patients who received the planning assistance, but only 30 percent of the others.

Also, family members reported that they had significantly less stress and depression when their deceased relatives had documented their end-of-life wishes.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on advance directives.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: BMJ, news release, March 24, 2010

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