Scientific Studies Confirm: Talking About Death Eases End of Life

Scientific Studies Confirm: Talking About Death Eases End of LifeRecent scientific studies confirm that talking about death can increase comfort and alleviating stress for dying patients and their loved ones.

End-of-life discussions benefit patients and caregivers
A study of 332 terminally ill cancer patients at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute revealed that patients who said they did not discuss end-of-life issues received more aggressive medical care in their final week of life.

Such aggressive treatment was linked to lower quality of life for the patients and their caregivers, who also experienced feelings of regret and an increased risk of depression. Those who reported engaging in end-of-life discussions, on the other hand, were more likely to receive hospice services, and their loved ones reported a better quality of life during bereavement.

Doctor-patient discussions result in less aggressive treatment, lower costs
Meanwhile, the March 9 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine included a report on a study of 603 terminally ill cancer patients, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Cancer Institute as part of the ongoing Coping With Cancer study.

According to the report, when doctors and patients talked about whether treatment should focus on prolonging life or controlling symptoms, patients were more likely to die at home and spend less time pursuing aggressive treatments. Researchers say these patients had a better quality of life and survived as long as those who did not discuss end-of-life options with their physicians.

The benefits of open communication between doctors and their dying patients include not only physical and emotional comfort, but also cost savings. The cost of providing health care in the last week of life was 36 percent lower for patients who reported having end-of-life discussions with their doctors, and researchers estimate that more than $76 million could be saved annually if just half of the people who die from cancer each year had those discussions with their physicians.

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