Spousal Characteristics and Older Adults' Hospice Use: Understanding Disparities in End-of-Life Care

Katherine A. Ornstein, Melissa D. Aldridge, Christine A. Mair, Rebecca Gorges, Albert L. Siu, Amy S. Kelley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: Hospice use has been shown to benefit quality of life for patients with terminal illness and their families, with further evidence of cost savings for Medicare and other payers. While disparities in hospice use by patient diagnosis, race, and region are well documented and attention to the role of family members in end-of-life decision-making is increasing, the influence of spousal characteristics on the decision to use hospice is unknown. Objectives: To determine the association between spousal characteristics and hospice use. Design: We used data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a prospective cohort study, linked to the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care and Medicare claims. Setting: National study of 1567 decedents who were married or partnered at the time of death (2000-2011). Measures: Hospice use at least 1 day in the last year of life as measured via Medicare claims data. Spousal factors (e.g., education and health status) measured via survey. Results: In multivariate models controlling for patient factors and regional variation, spouses with lower educational attainment than their deceased spouse had decreased likelihood of hospice use (odds ratio [OR] = 0.58; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.40-0.82). Health of the spouse was not significantly associated with likelihood of decedent hospice use in adjusted models. Implications: Although the health of the surviving spouse was not associated with hospice use, their educational level was a predictor of hospice use. Spousal and family characteristics, including educational attainment, should be examined further in relation to disparities in hospice use. Efforts to increase access to high-quality end-of-life care for individuals with serious illness must also address the needs and concerns of caregivers and family.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-515
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Palliative Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2016


Dive into the research topics of 'Spousal Characteristics and Older Adults' Hospice Use: Understanding Disparities in End-of-Life Care'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this