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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

End of life content in geriatric textbooks: what is the current situation?

Huei Yaw Wu1*, Farida A Malik2 and Irene J Higginson2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Geriatric Medicine, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, 11, Jalan Tan Tock Seng, 308433, Singapore

2 Department of Palliative Care, Policy & Rehabilitation, King's College London, Weston Education Centre, Cutcombe Road, Denmark Hill, London, SE5 9RJ, UK

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BMC Palliative Care 2006, 5:5  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-5-5

Published: 31 May 2006



Physicians caring for elderly people encounter death and dying more frequently than their colleagues in most other disciplines. Therefore we sought to examine the end-of-life content in popular geriatric textbooks and determine their usefulness in helping geriatricians manage patients at the end of their lives.


Five popular geriatric textbooks were chosen. Chapters on Alzheimer's disease, stroke, chronic heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer were examined because of their high mortality rates among the elderly patients. Text relevant to end-of-life care was highlighted. Two reviewers independently coded text into 10 pre specified domains and rated them for the presence of end-of-life information. Content was rated as absent, minimally helpful, or helpful. The proportion of helpful information was calculated.


The textbook with the best end-of-life coverage contained 38% helpful information, the worst had only 15% helpful information. Minimally helpful information ranged from 24% to 50%. As much as 61% of the content in one textbook contained no helpful information at all. Of the ten domains, epidemiology, disease progression and prognostic factors were fairly well covered. Information on advance care planning, ethical issues, decision making and effects of death and dying on patient's family were generally lacking under the individual diseases though they were covered as general topics in other parts of the textbooks. All except one textbook dedicated a chapter to the care of the dying.


This study showed that end-of-life content in geriatric textbooks differed significantly. Most of the textbooks lack good coverage on end-of-life care and more can be done to improve on this.