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A dementia diagnosis affects how long many people want to live, according to Norway study

By Erin Blakemore,

If you were guaranteed perfect health for the rest of your life, how long would you want to live? What if you knew you would develop a condition such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease or live with chronic pain or in poverty?

When researchers asked these questions of 825 Norwegians 60 and older as part of a recent study published in Age and Ageing, they found the hypothetical of having to live with any of those conditions affected how long the study participants said they’d like to live.

Using a measure they call preferred life expectancy, the researchers first asked, “If you could choose freely, until which age would you wish to live?” On average, the group wanted to live until 93. (According to the World Bank, Norway’s average life expectancy is nearly 83 years.)

But when researchers asked them how long they would like to live in six hypothetically adverse scenarios, their answers changed.

More than any other condition, being diagnosed with dementia led participants to reduce the amount of time they’d want to live, with 89 percent saying it would definitely affect them. But having to live with chronic pain came in a close second at 85 percent, followed by being a burden to society at 71 percent and loneliness at 66 percent. A slight majority, 56 percent, said they would prefer shorter lives if falling into poverty. Among married participants, 62 percent said the death of one’s spouse would reduce their preferred life expectancy.

The researchers write that given the rapid aging of the populations in many countries, it’s important to think about how health affects quality of life. “Understanding variation in life expectancy preferences can help health care, social service providers and the general public better understand fears and concerns held by older individuals,” they write.

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