Americans avoid planning for serious illness


“I’ll deal with it tomorrow. The perpetual tomorrow.”

That’s what one person told a pollster, encapsulating how Americans avoid planning ahead for serious illness and death.

While the vast majority of Americans say it’s important to write down their medical wishes in case they become seriously ill, only a third have done so, according to the poll, released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

When adults with serious illness don’t write down their wishes, family members are much less likely to know exactly what their loved one would want, and the adults themselves are less likely to feel their wishes are closely followed, the poll found.

The poll surveyed a representative sample of 2,040 American adults by phone, including 998 with direct experience of serious illness in the family.

Americans 65 and older are more prepared than younger Americans but, still, only 58 percent in that age group have a written document outlining their medical wishes in case of serious illness, and 67 percent have documented who they want to make medical decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated, the poll found.

The top reason people gave for avoiding these tasks is that “there are too many other things to worry about right now.”

The poll identifies differences across racial and ethnic groups:

— Black adults 65 and older were far less likely than white and Hispanic counterparts to have written down their medical wishes.

— Black and Hispanic adults were more likely than whites to cite “don’t want to think about sickness and death” as a major reason they didn’t document their wishes.

The poll also highlights challenges faced by seriously ill adults and their families. A seriously ill adult is defined as someone 65 or older who has a chronic condition, such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease, and also has functional limitations, such as difficulty eating, dressing or using the toilet. The findings include:

— About half of adults with serious illness had trouble understanding instructions for medications and medical care in the previous year.

— One in five family caregivers said no one can give them a break if they need it.

— About a third of family caregivers said they did not receive any training on how to move their loved one safely, recognize signs of pain or distress, or administer medications.

“The one thing I would say, for my family members, I was able to show them how to wash hair, how to change the bed with the person in it, those things,” one caregiver told pollsters. “But it would have been so helpful if the hospital, community center, anybody, had offered some basic classes.”

———

(KHN’s coverage of end-of-life and serious illness issues is supported by The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.)

———

(Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.)



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Lifestyle

University of Texas School of Nursing looking for participants in two studies on sleep and Alzheimer’s disease
University of Texas School of Nursing looking for participants in two studies on sleep and Alzheimer’s disease

University of Texas School of Nursing is enrolling patients in two different studies that look at Alzheimer’s disease and sleep. Kathy Richards, research professor and senior research scientist, has been interested in the possible connection between the two for decades. She’s heading both studies at UT. University...
A little bit at a time, couple transform their Central Austin home
A little bit at a time, couple transform their Central Austin home

Don’t tell, but Ami McChesney took time off from work a while back to get her Central Austin yard ready for this spring season. “It was bothering me because I had a lot to do,” says McChesney, a freelance medical writer who has flexibility working from home. Among other things, she pruned perennials, getting off the dead growth, she...
Couple’s redone forever home in East Austin on Preservation Austin tour
Couple’s redone forever home in East Austin on Preservation Austin tour

The kids were growing up. The need for the three-story house in Great Hills was slipping away when James and Leah Nyfeler bought a 1960 house on East Austin’s French Place. “It didn’t fit our lifestyle,” Leah Nyfeler says of their Great Hills house. They went looking for a house in a neighborhood in Central Austin where they...
Mom shares less-than-pretty truth about raising a child with autism
Mom shares less-than-pretty truth about raising a child with autism

Whitney Ellenby writes her truth about raising a son with autism in “Autism Uncensored: Pulling Back the Curtain” ($19.95, Koehler Books). Not everyone is going to like it, and that’s just fine with her. In fact, she’s been reviled for what she’s written. Ellenby was a lawyer in Washington, D.C., working in the Disability...
Make the stranger have value in your world
Make the stranger have value in your world

What is a life worth? I find myself asking this question about the value of life more and more, especially in light of the lives lost in recent events in our city, state, nation and the world. The value of a person’s life seems to depend on who that person is. Is the life mine? Is it yours? Is it the life of a loved one, like my husband, my mother...
More Stories