BACKGROUND: End-of-life experience is a subject of significant policy interest. National longitudinal studies offer valuable opportunities to examine individual-level experiences. Ireland is an international leader in palliative and end-of-life care rankings. We aimed to describe the prevalence of modifiable problems (pain, falls, depression) in Ireland, and to evaluate associations with place of death, healthcare utilisation, and formal and informal costs in the last year of life.
METHODS: The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) is a nationally representative sample of over-50-year-olds, recruited in Wave 1 (2009-2010) and participating in biannual assessment. In the event of a participant's death, TILDA approaches a close relative or friend to complete a voluntary interview on end-of-life experience. We evaluated associations using multinomial logistic regression for place of death, ordinary least squares for utilisation, and generalised linear models for costs. We identified 14 independent variables for regressions from a rich set of potential predictors. Of 516 confirmed deaths between Waves 1 and 3, the analytic sample contained 375 (73%) decedents for whom proxies completed an interview.
RESULTS: There was high prevalence of modifiable problems pain (50%), depression (45%) and falls (41%). Those with a cancer diagnosis were more likely to die at home (relative risk ratio: 2.5; 95% CI: 1.3-4.8) or in an inpatient hospice (10.2; 2.7-39.2) than those without. Place of death and patterns of health care use were determined not only by clinical need, but other factors including age and household structure. Unpaid care accounted for 37% of all care received but access to this care, as well as place of death, may be adversely affected by living alone or in a rural area. Deficits in unpaid care are not balanced by higher formal care use.
CONCLUSIONS: Despite Ireland's well-established palliative care services, clinical need is not the sole determinant of end-of-life experience. Cancer diagnosis and access to family supports were additional key determinants. Future policy reforms should revisit persistent inequities by diagnosis, which may be mitigated through comprehensive geriatric assessment in hospitals. Further consideration of policies to support unpaid carers is also warranted.