Objectives: Advance care planning (ACP) typically comprises formal preparations (i.e., living will and/or durable power of attorney for health care) and informal discussions with family members and health care providers. However, some people complete formal documents without discussing them with others. If they become incapacitated, their appointed decision makers may lack guidance on how to interpret or enact their formal wishes. We document the prevalence and correlates of this partial approach to ACP.
Method: Using multinomial logistic regression models and data from a U.S. sample of 4,836 older adults in the 2018 wave of the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS), this brief report evaluated associations between social integration indicators and the odds of completing (a) both discussions and formal plans (two-pronged ACP), (b) discussions only, (c) no ACP, and (d) formal ACP only (reference category). We adjust for demographic and health characteristics established as correlates of ACP.
Results: A minority (15%) of NHATS participants reported formal plans without having discussed them. Indicators of social isolation (e.g., smaller social networks and fewer social activities) increased the odds of engaging in formal planning only compared to two-pronged ACP. Socioeconomic disadvantage and probable dementia reduced the odds of having end-of-life conversations, whether as one’s only preparation or in tandem with formal preparations.
Discussion: Socially isolated persons are especially likely to do formal planning only, which is considered less effective than two-pronged ACP. Health care professionals should recognize that older adults with few kin may require additional support and guidance when doing ACP.