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Poll: Despite Pandemic's Toll, Many Older Adults Do Not Have Living Wills

THURSDAY, April 8, 2021 -- As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in the United States, less than half of older Americans have legally stated their wishes should they become seriously ill, a new survey reveals.

For the study, the researchers analyzed a National Poll on Health Aging online survey that was conducted in June 2020. The poll, based at the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, draws conclusions from the answers of a national sample of more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80 years.

Overall, 59 percent of respondents said they had had a conversation with loved ones about their wishes if they became severely ill. The rate was higher (70 percent) among those older than 65 years. Only 7 percent of the respondents said COVID-19 had motivated them to have such a conversation. Less than half (46 percent) of respondents said they had completed at least one of two legal documents -- medical durable powers of attorney and advance directives -- that could help their loved ones make decisions for them if they cannot do it for themselves. Of the 7 percent who had completed one or both forms in the early months of the pandemic, one-third said they were motivated by the pandemic. But that was just 1 percent of all the respondents.

"Health care professionals can use the COVID-19 pandemic as a starting point for discussing advance care planning with older adults, and policymakers may want to look for opportunities to encourage more discussions within families and between patients and providers," poll director Preeti Malani, M.D., from the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation in Ann Arbor, said in a statement.

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