More Americans Are Dying the Way They Want To

People are dying at home instead of in hospitals
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 12, 2019 12:30 AM CST
More Americans Are Dying at Home Instead of in Hospitals
In this Sept. 26, 2009 photo provided by Betsy McNair, Robert McNair smiles while eating a banana cream pudding in Belle Haven, Va.   (Betsy McNair via AP)

For the first time since the early 1900s, more Americans are dying at home than in hospitals, a trend that reflects more hospice care and progress toward the kind of end that most people say they want. Deaths in nursing homes also have declined, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine. "It's a good thing. Death has become overly medicalized over the last century" and this shows a turn away from that, says lead author Dr. Haider Warraich of the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System. Warraich and Duke University graduate student Sarah Cross used government health statistics on deaths from natural causes from 2003 through 2017, the AP reports. The portion that occurred in hospitals fell from 40% to 30% over that period and in nursing homes from 24% to 21%.

Deaths in homes rose, from 24% to 31%, though some assisted living centers may have been counted as homes. Betsy McNair is proud of the ending she helped give her father. Robert McNair was 83 when he died at home in Virginia in 2009, six weeks after learning he had lung cancer. "I made him exactly what he wanted to eat, whenever he wanted it. He had a scotch every night, he had a very high quality of life," she says. The type of illness matters, McNair says. Besides her father, she helped care for a brother who died of Lou Gehrig's disease in his 50s, and her mother, who died at age 92 in a nursing home after a long decline in health. "They were all completely different experiences," and sometimes it's not possible to adequately care for a family member at home, McNair says.

(More end of life care stories.)

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