End-of-Life Treatment Preferences Among Older Adults: An Assessment of Psychosocial Influences

Sociol Forum (Randolph N J). 2009 Dec 1;24(4):754-778. doi: 10.1111/j.1573-7861.2009.01135.x.


We explore the content and correlates of older adults' end-of-life treatment preferences in two hypothetical terminal illness scenarios: severe physical pain with no cognitive impairment, and severe cognitive impairment with no physical pain. For each scenario, we assess whether participants would reject life-prolonging treatment, accept treatment, or do not know their preferences. Using data from the 2004 wave of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (N = 5,106), we estimate multinomial logistic regression models to evaluate whether treatment preferences are associated with direct experience with end-of-life issues, personal beliefs, health, and sociodemographic characteristics. Persons who have made formal end-of-life preparations, persons with no religious affiliation, mainline Protestants, and persons who are pessimistic about their own life expectancy are more likely to reject treatment in both scenarios. Women and persons who witnessed the painful death of a loved one are more likely to reject treatment in the cognitive impairment scenario only. Consistent with rational choice perspectives, our results suggest that individuals prefer treatments that they perceive to have highly probable desirable consequences for both self and family.