People experience fewer debilitating symptoms before death compared to 20 years ago

NEW HAVEN, Conn — The end of life can be a painful and distressing time for seniors and their caregivers. While many adults will experience a number of debilitating symptoms in their old age, a new study reveals that trend is changing. Researchers in Connecticut say the number of problems restricting senior health is actually going down. Some symptoms however, are still plaguing the majority of people before their deaths.

A team from the Yale School of Medicine looked at over a dozen restricting symptoms many seniors face before they die. They examined 665 participants in Connecticut 70 years-old or older who died between 1998 and 2019.

In the final six months of their lives, the results reveal five symptoms have decreased in the last two decades. Fewer older adults experience difficulty sleeping, chest pain and tightness, shortness of breath, cold or flu symptoms, and stomach issues like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Some problems are increasing however, including arm or leg weakness, urinary incontinence, and memory or thinking problems.

Most of the problems seniors face before death have not changed over the years. Eight symptoms including poor eyesight, anxiety, depression, musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, dizziness and unsteadiness, frequent or painful urination, and swelling in feet or ankles saw little change since 1998.

“Based on our results, the occurrence of most restricting symptoms at the end of life has been decreasing or stable over the past two decades,” says lead author Dr. Thomas M. Gill, in a media release. “These results suggest that end-of-life care has been improving, although additional efforts will be needed to further reduce symptom burden at the end of life.”

The study appears in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.