The effect of age on medical decisions made by patients with chronic illness

A. T. Monias, L. M. Walke, R. S. Morrison, D. E. Meier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Patients are currently encouraged to appoint surrogates to make healthcare decisions for them in the event that they are not able to make those decisions for themselves. Many studies have suggested that in hypothetical situations, surrogates often make different decisions than the still-capacitated patients say they would make. Age difference between patient and appointed surrogate is one possible explanation because many surrogates are next-generation relatives. This study evaluated differences in end-of-life decision making between elderly and younger patients with chronic disease. Two age groups were interviewed: (1) geriatric patients aged 70 and older and; (2) acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) patients aged 30-50. Subjects who demonstrated an understanding of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) were asked to choose, on a five-point Likert scale, whether they would want these treatments for themselves in four hypothetical scenarios: (1) an older person in a coma after a car accident; (2) a younger person in a coma after a car accident; (3) an older person with Alzheimer's disease; (4) a younger person with AIDS dementia. One hundred seventy-six subjects were included: 84 geriatric patients and 92 AIDS patients. Differences in the two groups were significant only in the scenario of an older person in a coma after a car accident (p = 0.007), with the geriatric patients wanting more treatment. The lack of significant differences between healthcare decisions made by the two groups under the hypothetical scenarios utilized in this study may indicate that age differences will not prevent a next-generation healthcare agent from making substituted judgement that accurately reflects patient wishes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-317
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Palliative Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1999


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