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Families Often Don't Expect Death of Elderly Relative

Black families, especially, may not recognize that death is near, which may affect end-of-life care

MONDAY, Nov. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Families often don't recognize that death is near for an elderly relative, and black families are less likely than white families to expect a family member's death. Better communication between physicians and families could improve end-of-life care, researchers report in the November issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Brie A. Williams, M.D., of the University of California San Francisco, and colleagues interviewed 2,237 family members of decedents from the national Health and Retirement Survey.

The researchers found that only 58 percent of families expected their elderly relative's death. The expectation of death was significantly higher in families whose relatives had significant impairments in activities of daily living than in families whose relatives were not impaired (71 percent versus 24 percent), the report indicates. Black families were also found to be less likely than white families to expect death (49 percent versus 60 percent).

"Helping families better understand when to expect the death of a family member by considering functional status may help to improve end-of-life care, because families are more satisfied with end-of-life care when death is expected," the authors conclude. "In addition, more-accurate perceptions of prognosis could lead to more-appropriate end-of-life treatment choices, help guide physicians to communicate prognosis, and help prepare families for the death of an older relative."

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