Chaudhry believes that an improved system of palliative care holds the answer to helping people nearing the end of their lives.
"Right now, relatively few of our patients are referred to hospice at the end of life," she said. "There's a need for better palliative care throughout a patient's life rather than in the last months. That kind of care can be very important in improving the quality of life, maintaining independence, and reducing caregiver burden."
Keating said both studies call for a national reassessment of the availability of long-term care for seniors. Currently, most older Americans receive care from family members, she said, but as the elderly population grows there may not be enough caregivers to go around.
"More than 60 percent of women who live into their 90s are going to have disability," Keating said, citing the UCSF study. "These are widowers who are not going to have their husbands to help take care of them. Even though some people are starting to think about their goals for the very end of their life, many people have no concept for what they would do if they can no longer live independently. We need to figure out the best way to help these people remain as independent as possible, but recognize that 40 to 60 percent of the people living into their 80s and 90s are going to need help due to disability."
For more on end-of-life issues, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
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