Patterns of functional decline in hospice: what can individuals and their families expect?

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2013 Mar;61(3):413-7. doi: 10.1111/jgs.12144. Epub 2013 Jan 24.


Objectives: To describe the trajectory of functional decline after an individual is referred to hospice.

Design: Electronic health record-based retrospective cohort study.

Setting: Three hospice programs in the U.S. southeast, northeast, and midwest.

Participants: Individuals in hospice.

Main outcome measures: Palliative Performance Scale (PPS) scores measured at intervals between hospice enrollment and death, on a scale from 10 to 100.

Results: In 8,669 decedents, there was an average 13.8-point decline in PPS score. After adjusting for baseline PPS score and length of stay in hospice, three distinct trajectories were identified, each of which consisted of two diagnoses whose rates of decline had 95% confidence intervals (CIs) that overlapped. The most rapid decline was observed for individuals with cancer (adjusted decline 8.44 points/wk; 95% CI = 8.03-8.82) and stroke (adjusted decline 7.67 points/wk, 95% CI = 7.08-8.29). A significantly slower decline was observed in individuals with pulmonary disease (adjusted decline 5.02 points/wk, 95% CI = 4.24-5.75) and cardiac disease (adjusted decline 4.53 points/wk, 95% CI = 4.05-5.05). Individuals with debility (adjusted decline 1.86 points/wk, 95% CI = 0.95-2.78) and dementia (adjusted decline 1.98 points/wk, 95% CI = 1.01-2.89) had the slowest decline. In an inverse probability-weighted sample of individuals who had a PPS score recorded in the last day of life (n = 1,959, 22.6%), 35.9% had a PPS score of at least 40, indicating some oral intake, variable mental status, limited self-care, and an ability to get out of bed for at least part of the day.

Conclusion: Although functional status generally declines in individuals in hospice, this decline is heterogeneous. Some individuals retain some physical and cognitive function until the last day of life.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Aged
  • Disease Progression*
  • Female
  • Hospices*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Palliative Care*
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Terminally Ill*
  • United States