Elderly adults' preferences for life-sustaining treatments: the role of impairment, prognosis, and pain

Death Stud. 1999 Oct-Nov;23(7):617-34. doi: 10.1080/074811899200803.


Elderly adults' preferences for life-sustaining treatment are known to vary by type of medical condition and treatment. Less is known about how treatment preferences vary based on underlying health dimensions, such as the nature of the impairment, prognostic information, and the experience of pain. Fifty elderly adults stated preferences for 4 life-sustaining treatments in response to 4 pairs of health state scenarios. Overall, life-sustaining treatments were preferred less in response to (a) cognitive versus physical impairment, (b) when the prognosis described no chance versus a very slight chance of recovery/improvement, and (c) if pain was present. These findings have implications for the way in which preferences for life-sustaining treatments are recorded in advance directives. Historically, advance directives have been limited by overly broad or overly specific statements about treatment preferences. Recording underlying health dimensions that guide treatment decisions may allow decision makers to generalize and apply patient preferences to novel health conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care*
  • Male
  • Pain
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Prognosis
  • Surveys and Questionnaires