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Patients who plan their death end up living longer, study finds

Laura Donnelly
The study found that those with advance care plans lived for longer than those without  - PA

People who plan their death end up living longer, research suggests. 

The study of terminally ill patients found that those who discussed their preferences for end-of-life care with doctors actually lived for longer than other patients.

The research, published in BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care, compared two groups of patients, all of whom were terminally ill. 

It found that those involved in “advance care planning” - setting out whether they would want treatment to prolongue life, or where to spend their last days - had significantly longer survival.

The Danish study of 202 terminally ill patients found that 73 per cent of those with advance care plans were alive a year later. This compared with 57 per cent of those who had not taken such steps. 

The differences were particularly marked among patients with diseases other than cancer. 

Researchers said patients who had conversations with their doctors about the fact they were dying might be more likely to reject high-risk treatments.

They said that treatments such as steroids, taken in the hope they would extend life, could actually reduce survival, particularly in those suffering serious lung diseases.

Among the patients without cancer, nine in ten of those involved in advanced care planning were alive a year later, compared with two thirds of those who had not.

The study by Aarhus University Hospital, in Denmark, said the study was relatively small, calling for further research. 

Researchers said: “Advance care planning was associated with a significantly improved survival among terminally-ill patients, primarily patients with non-cancer diseases. However, the analysis was explorative, and the association must be investigated further before drawing any firm conclusion,” they said. 

The medics involved in the study said previous studies suggested cancer patients were more likely than those with other diseases to be aware of the life-threatening nature of their illnesses.

And they said the new research did not register any changes in treatment for the patients. 

Advance care plans can also involve setting out spiritual or religious beliefs, practical beliefs or planning a funeral.