Background: The evidence base for understanding hospice use among persons with dementia is almost exclusively based on individuals with a primary terminal diagnosis of dementia. Little is known about whether comorbid dementia influences hospice use patterns. Objective: To estimate the prevalence of comorbid dementia among hospice enrollees and its association with hospice use patterns. Design: Pooled cross-sectional analysis of the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study (HRS) linked to Medicare claims. Subjects: Fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries in the United States who enrolled with hospice and died between 2004 and 2016. Measurements: Dementia was assessed using a validated survey-based algorithm. Hospice use patterns were enrollment less than or equal to three days, enrollment greater than six months, hospice disenrollment, and hospice disenrollment after six months. Results: Of 3123 decedents, 465 (14.9%) had a primary hospice diagnosis of dementia and 943 (30.2%) had comorbid dementia and died of another illness. In fully adjusted models, comorbid dementia was associated with increased odds of hospice enrollment greater than six months (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.52, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.11-2.09) and hospice disenrollment following six months of hospice (AOR = 2.55, 95% CI: 1.43-4.553). Having a primary diagnosis of dementia was associated with increased odds of hospice enrollment greater than six months (AOR = 2.62, 95% CI: 1.86-3.68), hospice disenrollment (AOR = 1.82, 95% CI: 1.32-2.51), and hospice disenrollment following six months of hospice (AOR = 4.31, 95% CI: 2.37-7.82). Conclusion: Approximately 45% of the hospice population has primary or comorbid dementia and are at increased risk for long hospice enrollment periods and hospice disenrollment. Consideration of the high prevalence of comorbid dementia should be inherent in hospice staff training, quality metrics, and Medicare Hospice Benefit policies.
Keywords: comorbidity; dementia; end of life; health services research; hospice.