Ethnicity and decision-makers in a group of frail older people

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1998 Mar;46(3):280-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1998.tb01038.x.


Objective: To assess the relationship between ethnicity and decision-makers expressing healthcare wishes in a group of frail older persons enrolled in the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).

Design: A retrospective chart review of 1193 participants in the PACE program.

Setting: Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, a comprehensive managed care demonstration program serving frail older participants at 10 sites across the nation.

Participants: A total of 1193 older adults, all of whom met state criteria for nursing home level of care. Three hundred were non-Hispanic whites, 364 were black, 156 were Hispanic, and 288 were Asian.

Measurements: Demographic characteristics of the patients and the presence or absence of an alternative decision-maker; the characteristics of alternative decision-makers included the relationship to the participant as recorded in the patient's medical record.

Results: Ninety-one percent of white patients expressed their own healthcare wishes in contrast to only 85% of Hispanic, 83% of Asian, and 67% of black patients. An alternative decision-maker was identified for about 15% of Asians and Hispanics and for one-third of blacks, but only about 8% of whites had an alternative decision-maker. Black and Hispanic patients were most likely to have a daughter as an alternative decision-maker, Asians were most likely to have a son, and whites patients were most likely to have a spouse as an alternative decision-maker. Blacks, particularly black men, were the most likely to have a relative other than a spouse or child as an alternative decision-maker.

Conclusions: In this population, we found significant ethnic variation in the person identified to be the decision-maker in a group of frail older people. Ethnic variation reflected sociodemographic as well as cultural differences. However, there are important limitations to this study, and caution should be used in extrapolating the results to other populations or in attributing the results to ethnicity alone. An awareness of cross-cultural patterns in identified or de facto decision-makers can be significant for healthcare workers when they approach patients and their families about issues surrounding end of life decisions.

MeSH terms

  • Advance Directives*
  • Aged
  • Asian
  • Black or African American
  • Decision Making*
  • Ethnicity*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Frail Elderly*
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Spouses
  • United States
  • White People