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More Family Support Can Raise Fears For Some Elderly

In British study, anxieties over dying rose among older people cared for in minority households

TUESDAY, March 30 (HealthDay News) -- Having many supportive relatives actually increases the fear of dying among elderly people in ethnic minorities, according to British researchers.

The finding runs counter to the common belief that having a group of family caregivers eases the fear of death. It also has important implications for health care services as fear about dying is contributing to an increasing number of people in Great Britain dying in the hospital rather than at home.

The University College London study included 1,000 ethnically diverse people, aged 65 and older, who were asked how much they feared dying, the manner of death, losing control over their death, and suffering pain.

Almost one-third of the ethnic minority participants (including people of Indian, Pakistani, black Caribbean, and Chinese ethnicities) lived in households with four or more adults, compared with 1 percent of whites. About 5 percent of the ethnic minority participants lived alone, compared with nearly half of the white participants. Two-thirds of the ethnic minority participants had large family networks of four or more relatives who were prepared to provide assistance, compared with one-third of the white participants, the study noted.

More than half of the ethnic minority participants had the worst scores for fear of death and dying, and quality of life. The study also found that 77 percent of the ethnic minority participants had up to four extreme fears around death -- including fear of the mode of death, fear of not being able to control their death, fear of dying itself, and fear of being in pain.

Having more relatives to help with practical tasks, if needed, actually increased fears in three of these four categories.

The study was published March 30 in the Postgraduate Medical Journal.

In most developed countries, fewer than one-fifth of deaths occur at home. If current trends continue, that will decrease to fewer than one-tenth by 2030, the researchers said.

More information

The American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging discusses dying at home.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Postgraduate Medical Journal, news release, March 29, 2010

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