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Research priorities for geriatric palliative care: goals, values, and preferences

Laura C Hanson, Gary Winzelberg
Journal of Palliative Medicine 2013, 16 (10): 1175-9
Older patients and their families desire control over health decisions in serious illness. Experts recommend discussion of prognosis and goals of care prior to decisions about treatment. Having achieved longevity, older persons often prioritize other goals such as function, comfort, or family support--and skilled communication is critical to shift treatment to match these goals. Shared decision making is the ideal approach in serious illness. Older patients desire greater family involvement; higher rates of cognitive impairment mean greater dependency on surrogates to make decisions. Despite the importance of communication, fewer than half of older patients or families recall treatment discussions with clinicians, and poor quality communication adversely affects family satisfaction and patient outcomes. Direct audiorecording of clinical encounters and longitudinal studies of communication and treatment decisions have yielded important insights into the quality of clinical communication. Current clinical practice rarely meets standards for shared decision making. Innovative methods to record and use patient preferences show promise to overcome the limitations of traditional advance directives. Decision aids, intensive clinician training, and structured interpersonal communication interventions have all been shown to be effective to improve the quality of communication and decision making. Priorities for geriatric palliative care research, building on these insights, now include empirical testing of communication approaches for surrogates and for diverse populations, exploration of meaningful ways to communicate prognosis, and expansion of intervention research.


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