The feasibility of self-report advance directives among elderly patients with cognitive impairment

Thomas Allen Teasdale, The University of Texas School of Public Health


The central objective of this dissertation was to determine the feasibility of self-completed advance directives (AD) in older persons suffering from mild and moderate stages of dementia. This was accomplished by identifying differences in ability to complete AD among elderly subjects with increasing degrees of dementia and cognitive incompetence. Secondary objectives were to describe and compare advance directives completed by elders and identified proxy decision makers. Secondary objectives were accomplished by measuring the agreement between advance directives completed by proxy and elder, and comparing that agreement across groups defined by the elder's cognitive status. This cross-sectional study employed a structured interview to elicit AD, followed by a similar interview with a proxy decision maker identified by the elder. A stratified sampling scheme recruited elders with normal cognition, mild, and moderate forms of dementia using the Mini Mental-State Exam (MMSE). The Hopkins Competency Assessment Test (HCAT) was used for evaluation of competency to make medical decisions. Analysis was conducted on "between group" (non-demented $\leftrightarrow$ mild dementia $\leftrightarrow$ moderate dementia, and competent $\leftrightarrow$ incompetent) and "within group" (elder $\leftrightarrow$ family member) variation. The 118 elderly subjects interviewed were generally male, Caucasian, and of low socioeconomic status. Mean age was 77. Overall, elders preferred a "trial of therapy" regarding AD rather than to "always receive the therapy". No intervention was refused outright more often than it was accepted. A test-retest of elders' AD revealed stable responses. Eleven logic checks measured appropriateness of AD responses independent of preference. No difference was found in logic error rates between elders grouped by MMSE or HCAT. Agreement between proxy and elder responses showed significant dissimilarity, indicating that proxies were not making the same medical decisions as the elders. Conclusions based on these data are: (1) Self reporting AD is feasible among elders showing signs of cognitive impairment and they should be given all opportunities to complete advance directives, (2) variation in preferences for advance directives in cognitively impaired elders should not be assumed to be the effects of their impairment alone, (3) proxies do not appear to forego life-prolonging interventions in the face of increasing impairment in their ward, however, their advance directives choices are frequently not those of the elder they represent.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Teasdale, Thomas Allen, "The feasibility of self-report advance directives among elderly patients with cognitive impairment" (1994). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9513537.