Knowing loved ones' end-of-life health care wishes: attachment security predicts caregivers' accuracy

Health Psychol. 2011 Nov;30(6):814-8. doi: 10.1037/a0025664.


Objective: At times, caregivers make life-and-death decisions for loved ones. Yet very little is known about the factors that make caregivers more or less accurate as surrogate decision makers for their loved ones. Previous research suggests that in low stress situations, individuals with high attachment-related anxiety are attentive to their relationship partners' wishes and concerns, but get overwhelmed by stressful situations. Individuals with high attachment-related avoidance are likely to avoid intimacy and stressful situations altogether. We hypothesized that both of these insecure attachment patterns limit surrogates' ability to process distressing information and should therefore be associated with lower accuracy in the stressful task of predicting their loved ones' end-of-life health care wishes.

Method: Older patients visiting a medical clinic stated their preferences toward end-of-life health care in different health contexts, and surrogate decision makers independently predicted those preferences. For comparison purposes, surrogates also predicted patients' perceptions of everyday living conditions so that surrogates' accuracy of their loved ones' perceptions in nonstressful situations could be assessed.

Results: Surrogates high on either type of insecure attachment dimension were less accurate in predicting their loved ones' end-of-life health care wishes. It is interesting to note that even though surrogates' attachment-related anxiety was associated with lower accuracy of end-of-life health care wishes of their loved ones, it was associated with higher accuracy in the nonstressful task of predicting their loved ones' everyday living conditions.

Conclusions: Attachment orientation plays an important role in accuracy about loved ones' end-of-life health care wishes. Interventions may target emotion regulation strategies associated with insecure attachment orientations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Decision Making*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Object Attachment*
  • Patient Satisfaction