Critter Corner: Plan Ahead to Live Longer

Dear Hayek,

I read somewhere that if you plan ahead for the end of life that you will live longer. Is this true?

Thanks!

Liv Lawnger


Dear Liv,

According to a recent study, what you say is true, but the study only applies to terminally ill patients. Still, as I will explain, planning in advance has major benefits that can help all of us live longer.

In the study, terminally ill patients who discussed their options and planned for end-of-life tended to survive a year longer than those who had not, according to a small clinical trial in Denmark.

Authors at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark originally set out to learn if advance care planning influenced whether terminally ill patients died at home or in the hospital. In the course of this study, they noticed how trial participants who had their end-of-life planning done lived for a year or more than the others who did not, so they decided to take a closer look.

In incapacity planning, patients are encouraged to talk about the kind of care they want, their wishes for resuscitation or treatment, and where they prefer to die among other things. These wishes are usually documented in incapacity planning documents. According to study author Mette Asbjoern Neergaard, an associate professor at the palliative care unit, department of oncology at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, “If advanced care planning can improve survival, that’s really important to look into.”

For this aspect of the study, Neergaard and colleagues enrolled 205 terminally ill persons at similar stages in Denmark. The researchers randomly allocated 102 patients to discuss and plan for their end-of-life preferences and 103 to a comparison group that did not receive this intervention. All the patients were followed until death or for a three-year period. When the researchers looked at survival rates, they found that, overall, 73% of the patients who had discussed advance care planning were alive a year after enrollment, compared with 57% of those who did not have these discussions. Neergaard said the authors don’t know exactly how survival improved.

“Having the conversation about end-of-life preferences and thoughts may be helping patients make a commitment to life, take better care of themselves, and let their families take better care of them too,” she said. Discussing care options also opens pathways to symptom management and palliative care, said Patricia Davidson, dean and professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in Baltimore, Maryland, who wasn’t involved in the study. “We cannot underestimate the importance of patients coming to some level of personal peace about their condition.” Davidson said.

Planning in advance for incapacity and long-term care is helpful for all of us

Planning in advance is a great source of peace of mind and stress relief, knowing things are taken care of and your wishes are clearly documented for your loved ones. Make it a goal this year to discuss your wishes with your loved ones and get your planning in order!

Hayek

Leave a comment