Lifelong versus not lifelong death wishes in older adults without severe illness: a cross-sectional survey

Elke Elzinga, Margot Zomers*, Kiki van der Burg, Sisco van Veen, Lizanne Schweren, Ghislaine van Thiel, Els van Wijngaarden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Background: Some older adults with a persistent death wish without being severely ill report having had a death wish their whole lives (lifelong persistent death wish; L-PDW). Differentiating them from older adults without severe illness who developed a death wish later in life (persistent death wish, not lifelong; NL-PDW) can be relevant for the provision of adequate help and support. This study aims to gain insight into the characteristics, experiences, and needs of older adults with a L-PDW versus older adults with a NL-PDW and into the nature of their death wishes. Methods: In the Netherlands, in April 2019, a cross-sectional survey study was conducted among a large representative sample of 32,477 citizens aged 55 years and older. Respondents with a L-PDW (N = 50) were compared with respondents with a NL-PDW (N = 217) using descriptive statistics, Kruskal–Wallis tests, and Fisher’s exact tests. Results: Respondents with a L-PDW were relatively younger and less often had (step)children. They less often looked back on a good and satisfying life with many good memories and more often reported trauma. Older adults with a NL-PDW more often reported loss and bereavement. Overall, the groups showed a lot of similarities. Both groups reported a death wish diverse in nature, numerous health problems, and a variety of needs for help and support. Conclusions: Some of the differences we found between the groups might be particularly relevant for the provision of adequate help and support to older adults with a L-PDW (i.e., their past and trauma) and to older adults with a NL-PDW (i.e., their loss and bereavement). The heterogeneity of both groups and the diverse nature of their death wish indicate that careful assessment of the death wish, its background, and underlying needs is required to provide personalized help and support to older adults with a death wish.

Original languageEnglish
Article number885
Pages (from-to)1-10
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Volume22
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2022

Keywords

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Netherlands/epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Death wish
  • Suicide ideation
  • End-of-life
  • Old
  • Lifelong
  • Long-lasting

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