Background: Little is known about patients' preferences for site of terminal care.
Objective: To describe older persons' preferences for home or hospital as the site of terminal care and to explore potential reasons for their preferences.
Design: Cross-sectional quantitative and qualitative interviews.
Setting: Participants' homes.
Patients: Community-dwelling persons 65 years of age or older who were recently hospitalized with congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or pneumonia and were not selected according to life expectancy; 246 patients participated in quantitative interviews and 29 participated in qualitative interviews.
Measurements: Preference for site of terminal care and the reasons for that preference.
Results: In quantitative interviews, 118 patients (48%) preferred terminal care in the hospital, 106 (43%) preferred home, and 22 (9%) did not know. One third changed their preference when asked about their preference in the event of a nonterminal illness. Reasons for preference identified during qualitative interviews included the desire to be with family members and concerns about burden to family members and their ability to provide necessary care. Concern about long-term care needs resulted in preference for a nursing home when choice was not constrained to home and hospital.
Conclusions: Preference for home as the site of care for terminal illness exceeds existing practice. However, the current debate about home versus hospital as the ideal site for end-of-life care may ignore an important issue to older persons--namely, the care of disabilities that precede death.