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GPs should encourage families to discuss old age issues

Fifth of people have not discussed end-of-life care

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 11 July 2016

GPs and other health and care professionals should encourage families they work with to think about having serious conversations relating to ageing and care, according to a leading older people’s charity.

The charity Independent Age has today published research on attitudes to ageing and end-of-life care that finds that millions of older people are putting off difficult conversations about ageing until times of crisis or not having them at all.

Research carried out by ComRes for Independent Age for its new report We need to talk about caring: dealing with difficult conversations suggests that almost two thirds of people aged 65 and over (around 7 million people) have never had a conversation with their family about key issues including:

  • preferences for end-of-life care
  • where they would like to live if they can no longer live at home
  • who will care for them

ComRes interviewed 2,066 British adults online asking which topics they would find it most difficult to discuss with their families and 46% of respondents listed ‘preferences for end-of-life care’ among the three most difficult to discuss, followed by ‘who will care for me when I’m older if I need it’ (42%) and ‘where I would like to live if I can no longer live at home’ (34%).

The survey found that while the vast majority of the public believe that it is important to talk to older relatives about these issues, only a minority had actually had these conversations.

Many (81%) of British adults said it was fairly/very important to talk to older relatives about ‘their preferences around end-of-life care’, but just 20% said they had done so.

The charity warned that by putting off difficult conversations about ageing, families risked making rushed decisions about care, health, housing and financial matters at times of crisis.

Its report says health professionals can play a part in changing attitudes and argues that GPs can help but will need extra investment to allow them to provide longer 15-minute consultations with older patients and their families to do so.

The authors said that the research found there was “considerable desire” for greater input from trusted professionals, who could provide an outside perspective and validate the need for a conversation.

The report says: “We would like to see more health and care professionals consciously encouraging the families they work with to think about the five conversation areas we have identified as most crucial to discuss.

“For this to happen, more space must be made available within our health and care systems. For example, a 2015 BMA survey of 15,560 GPs found that only one in 10 felt that current appointments were long enough.

“This pressure is likely to make difficult conversations even less likely to happen. But sufficient investment for GPs to offer consultations of at least 15 minutes would offer the opportunity to increase in-depth discussions of this kind.”

Janet Morrison, the charity’s chief executive, said: “These are issues that only get more pressing with time. It is vital that families start talking about these issues now, so they’re not left making important decisions at times of crisis or suddenly struggling to cope with significant caring responsibilities.”

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