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Older people's views of a good death in heart failure: Implications for palliative care provision

By M. Gott, Neil Small, Sarah Barnes, Sheila Payne and David Seamark

Abstract

Palliative care in the UK has been developed to meet the needs of predominantly middle aged and younger old people with cancer. Few data are available regarding the extent to which services respond to the specific needs of an older group of people with other illnesses. This paper draws on in-depth interviews conducted with 40 people (median age 77) with advanced heart failure and poor prognosis to explore the extent to which older people's views and concerns about dying are consistent with the prevalent model of the 'good death' underpinning palliative care delivery. That prevalent model is identified as the "revivalist" good death. Our findings indicate that older people's views of a 'good death' often conflict with the values upon which palliative care is predicated. For example, in line with previous research, many participants did not want an open awareness of death preceded by acknowledgement of the potential imminence of dying. Similarly, concepts of autonomy and individuality appeared alien to most. Indeed, whilst there was evidence that palliative care could help improve the end of life experiences of older people, for example in initiating discussions around death and dying, the translation of other aspects of specialist palliative care philosophy appear more problematic. Ultimately, the study identified that improving the end of life experiences of older people must involve addressing the problematised nature of ageing and old age within contemporary society, whilst recognising the cohort and cultural effects that influence attitudes to death and dying.UK Heart failure Good death Palliative care Older adults

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