Advance care plans and hospitalized frail older adults: a systematic review

BMJ Support Palliat Care. 2020 Jun;10(2):164-174. doi: 10.1136/bmjspcare-2019-002093. Epub 2020 Apr 2.


Introduction: Frail older people are known to have low rates of advance care planning (ACP). Many frail patients prefer less aggressive treatment, but these preferences are often not known or respected. Frail patients often have multiple hospital admissions, potentially providing opportunities for ACP.

Objective: To systematically review the literature concerning ACP with frail older people in the acute hospital, with particular reference to: (1) Does ACP improve outcomes? (2) What are the views of patients, relatives and healthcare professionals regarding ACP? (3) Does ACP currently occur? (4) What are the facilitators and barriers to ACP?

Design: Systematic literature review and narrative synthesis. Electronic search of MEDLINE, CINAHL, ASSIA, PsycINFO and Embase databases from January 1990 to May 2019 inclusive. Studies in the acute setting of populations with a mean age >75 years, not focused on a disease-specific terminal condition were included.

Results: 16 133 articles were retrieved, 14 met inclusion criteria. No studies used an objective measure of frailty. One randomised controlled trial (RCT) found that ACP improves outcomes for older patients. Although 74%-84% of capacitous older inpatients are receptive to ACP, rates of ACP are 0%-5%; the reasons for this discrepancy have been little studied. The nature of ACP in clinical practice is unknown thus the extent to which it reflects the RCT intervention cannot be assessed. The outcomes that are important to patients are poorly understood and family and physician experiences have not been explored.

Conclusions: A better understanding of this area could help to improve end-of-life care for frail older people.

Prospero registration number: CRD42017080246.

Keywords: chronic conditions; communication; hospital care; prognosis.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Frail Elderly / psychology*
  • Frailty / psychology*
  • Health Services for the Aged*
  • Humans
  • Inpatients / psychology
  • Male
  • Terminal Care / psychology*