Perceptions and Knowledge Regarding Medical Situations at the End of Life among Older Adults in Switzerland

J Palliat Med. 2023 Jan;26(1):35-46. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2022.0057. Epub 2022 Jun 29.


Background: Perceptions and knowledge regarding end-of-life health and health care can influence individuals' advance care planning, such as the completion and content of advance directives. Objectives: To assess older adults' perceptions of medical end-of-life situations in Switzerland along with their accuracy and corresponding associations with sociodemographic characteristics. Design: This is an observational study. Setting/study subjects: A nationally representative sample of adults aged 58 years and older who participated in wave 8 (2019/2020) of the Swiss part of the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (cooperation rate: 94.3%). Measurements: Subjective likelihood of 11 end-of-life situations on a 4-point scale: very unlikely (0-25%), rather unlikely (26%-50%), rather likely (51%-75%), and very likely (76%-100%). Results: Older adults' perceptions of end-of-life medical situations in Switzerland were rather heterogeneous and often inaccurate. Study subjects overestimated the success of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the utility of a fourth-line chemotherapy, of hospital admission for pneumonia for patients with advanced dementia, and for artificial nutrition and hydration in the dying phase, while underestimating the effectiveness of pain management in this situation. Less than 28% of older adults correctly assessed the likelihood of dying in a nursing home, hospital, or at home, respectively. Inaccurate views were more frequent in men (p < 0.01) and individuals with financial difficulties (p < 0.05), whereas adults aged 75+ years (p < 0.01) and respondents from the German-speaking part of Switzerland (p < 0.01) had more accurate perceptions. Conclusions: The wide variation and low accuracy of end-of-life perceptions suggest considerable scope for communication interventions about the reality of end-of-life health and health care in Switzerland.

Keywords: Switzerland; end of life; knowledge; older adults; perceptions; population-based study.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning*
  • Aged
  • Death
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nursing Homes
  • Switzerland
  • Terminal Care*