60% of older patients don't want to discuss life expectancy, survey finds

Most older patients do not wish to discuss life expectancy with their physicians, according to a survey published in Annals of Family Medicine.

Researchers surveyed a nationally representative group of 878 adults age 65 or older via an online poll in 2016. Researchers presented survey respondents with a hypothetical situation in which a patient had a limited life expectancy but was not immediately dying.

Most respondents (59.4 percent) did not want to discuss life expectancy in relation to the given scenario. Of this group, 59.9 percent of respondents said the physician should not bring up life expectancy in discussions with the patient, and 87.7 percent did not want it discussed with friends or family.

Nearly 56 percent of respondents wanted to discuss life expectancy only if they had less than two years to live.

"The majority of older adults did not wish to discuss life expectancy when we depicted a hypothetical patient with limited life expectancy," the researchers concluded. "Many also did not want to be offered discussion, raising a dilemma for how clinicians may identify patients' preferences regarding this sensitive topic."

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