It’s been more than 15 years since the Institute of Medicine released its seminal 1997 report detailing the suffering many Americans experience at the end of life and offering sweeping recommendations on how to improve care.
So has dying in America gotten any less painful?
Despite efforts to build hospice and palliative care programs across the country, the answer seems to be a resounding no. The number of Americans experiencing pain in the last year of life actually increased by nearly 12 percent between 1998 and 2010, according to a study released Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In addition, depression in the last year of life increased by more than 26 percent.
That’s the case even though guidelines and quality measures for end-of-life care were developed, the number of palliative care programs rose and hospice use doubled between 2000 and 2009.
“We’ve put a lot of work into this and it’s not yielding what we thought it should be yielding. So what do we do now?” asked study author Dr. Joanne Lynn, who directs the Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness at the Altarum Institute.
The study looked at 7,204 patients who died while enrolled in the national Health and Retirement study, a survey of Americans over age 50. After each participant’s death, a family member was asked questions about the person’s end-of-life experience, including whether the person suffered pain, depression or periodic confusion. Those three symptoms were all found to have become more prevalent over the 10-year analysis.