Death Less Painful for the Rich

Maybe money can't buy everything, but a new study finds the wealthy manage to fund reduced misery in their last year on this planet.

People 70 or older whose net worth was at least $70,000 were 30 percent less likely than poorer people to have felt pain often during the year before they died.

The University of Michigan study will be detailed in the August issue of the Journal of Palliative Care.

Researchers analyzed data on 2,604 men and women age 70 or older who died between 1993 and 2000. When a study subject died, researchers interviewed spouses or others to learn about their last months of life and the circumstances of their death.

The well-off experienced fewer symptoms overall, the investigation found. They had less pain and were less likely to experience shortness of breath or depression.

Everybody tends to suffer toward the end, however.

"Regardless of wealth, older Americans carry an unacceptable burden of suffering in their last year of life," said Maria Silveira, a physician at the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System and a research scientist at the university.

Fatigue was the most common symptom, experienced by 57 percent of those who died. More than 50 percent experienced pain, and 59 percent of those who experienced pain were reported to have suffered pain at severe levels.

The study might direct changes in health care for the elderly, the researchers suggest.

Pain, depression, and shortness of breath "are treatable symptoms," said University of Michigan co-researcher Kenneth Langa, "and not an inevitable part of the dying process."

"Our current health system provides palliative care mostly through hospice and hospitals," said Silveira, the lead author of the study. "As a result, health care providers' radar may be set to miss older adults unless they have a reason to become hospitalized."

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