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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Old People Die Alarmingly Quickly in Nursing Homes, Study Finds

Posted By on Thu, Aug 26, 2010 at 6:30 AM

click to enlarge The Bible claims Methuselah lived to be 969. No word on how long he lasted after entering a nursing home.
  • The Bible claims Methuselah lived to be 969. No word on how long he lasted after entering a nursing home.
If you're going to put Grandma or Grandpa in a nursing home -- don't put off making a visit. That's the upshot of a U.C. San Francisco study published this week, which reveals elders often don't last very long in care facilities.

Of its sample of nursing home patients who died between 1992 and 2006, a full 80 percent were dead within one year, claims the study, which appears in the current edition of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.  The paper also determined that death, like life, ain't fair: Men die faster than women; and married people die quicker than single ones. Counter-intuitively, however, richer people die faster than poorer ones.

Lead author Anne Kelly, a social worker at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, has an explanation for this. And it has nothing to do with divine comeuppance.

Simply put, folks with more money had the resources to stay at home or elsewhere longer and exhaust all the possibilities before ending up at a nursing home, she says. By the time they reach the last stage, they're further along than poor folks.

The study was based on analysis of 1,817 nursing home residents who died over a 17-year span in nursing homes; fully one-quarter of Americans now die in nursing homes, the researchers note. The average age of study participants when they moved to nursing homes was just over 83. And the average length of stay before death was just under 14 months. The median stay, however, was just five months -- and 53 percent of the nursing home residents in the study pool had died within six months.

Granted, the study pool was only composed of patients who were already dead -- so elderly people who lived, or continue to live, for marathon stretches in nursing homes were not included. But researchers' conclusions are as stark as yours likely are: Patients often don't last long. Those with elderly relatives should keep that in mind -- as should health professionals.

"We need to engage nursing home residents in planning conversations

about end-of-life care and treatment preferences very soon after they

are admitted," said co-author Dr. Alex Smith, a UCSF professor . "We have only a brief amount of time to address their

concerns before they become seriously ill."

This story has been edited since its publication.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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