What is the evidence that people living with frailty have needs for palliative care at the end of life?


Daniel Stow, PhD Student, Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, explains the background to his longer article selected as Editor’s Choice in the April issue of  ‘Palliative Medicine’.

Daniel Stow

People are now living longer than ever before, something we should celebrate. But it also means that more people are living with frailty as they grow older, and some are dying without ever receiving a diagnosis associated with terminal care. Frailty is often described as something that increases your vulnerability to health stressors. This means people living with frailty are less likely than those without frailty to make a full recovery from what would otherwise be relatively minor health complaints. Frailty also increases the likelihood of death. This has, understandably, led to suggestions that people living (or dying) with frailty should receive palliative care.

Age should never be a barrier to good care, but beyond the increased likelihood of death it isn’t clear what needs people living with frailty have that palliative care could address. What symptoms do people living with frailty have? What are their psychosocial needs? Do they have needs that palliative care could help with, and are current palliative services configured to address those needs?

These were some of the questions that arose during the early stages of my PhD, which looks at frailty and end-of-life care. The main focus of my work has been to investigate whether a routinely available frailty measure could help family doctors to identify people with frailty who are nearing the end of life. But to start with, I looked at published evidence, to try and answer my first question – what are the care needs, of people dying with frailty?

In a systematic review of  twenty international studies (most from North America), we found evidence that people with frailty have a range of physical needs (such as pain) and psychosocial needs (like emotional distress) as they near the end of life. Often these needs were higher amongst people with frailty, compared to people who were not frail. Crucially, these needs were experienced as often by people with frailty, as people who were dying with other recognised end-of-life diagnoses, such as cancer, motor neurone disease and kidney failure. People with frailty were also more likely to require help when bathing and eating as they approached the end of life.

These findings suggest that people with frailty near end of life may benefit from having their needs assessed, and the type of needs point to a role for generalists in primary care. However, research from hospitals, at critical phases of care, was dominant in the review, probably because frailty assessment has been more common in hospital settings. Nevertheless, this may be an area where empirical research in a wider range of settings is needed.

We were delighted to hear that our systematic review was selected as Editor’s Choice for the April edition of Palliative Medicine (https://doi.org/10.1177/0269216319828650).

I hope that the take home message is clear: it is really important to think about the needs and preferences of people dying with frailty, and to remember that their needs and preferences may change as they approach death.

People with frailty have often reached a great age – but they may still benefit from all the things that palliative care does so well.


This post relates to the longer article, ‘What is the evidence that people with frailty have needs for palliative care at the end of life? A systematic review’ by Daniel Stow, Gemma Spiers, Fiona E Matthews, Barbara Hanratty, published in Palliative Medicine 2019 Volume: 33 issue: 4, page(s): 399-414. Article first published online: 18 February, 2019. Issue published: 1 April 2019. This paper is open access. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269216319828650

Note: Daniel is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Primary Care Research (SPCR). The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

Editor’s note: This post is among the Top Ten most-viewed posts for the first half of  2019.

If  you enjoyed this post and are attending the 16th EAPC World Congress in Berlin, please come along to the session, ‘Older People: Dementia and frailty near the end of life’ on Thursday 23 May in Estrel A at 11:15 to 12:45. During the session, Daniel Stow will give a presentation on ‘What are the palliative care needs of older people with frailty near to the end of life, and can primary care identify when to help?’ at 12:30. View the full EAPC World Congress programme here.   Register here.

Did you know that EAPC members can download ‘Editor’s Choice’ articles from the EAPC website?
If you are currently an Individual or Associate EAPC Member you have full access to the EAPC website, and the chance to download a free PDF of all ‘Editor’s choice’ articles and many other papers too. Just  click here; enter your email address and membership password and choose from the list of journal articles.

How to join as an Individual/Associate Member, or to renew your membership

Note: You can apply to be an Associate Member FREE of charge provided that you are a member of your country’s national palliative care association, and that the association is an EAPC National Association member.


This entry was posted in 2019 most-viewed, EAPC-LINKED JOURNALS, Palliative Medicine: Editor's Choice and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What is the evidence that people living with frailty have needs for palliative care at the end of life?

  1. smurra says:

    Great post, and looking forward to hearing more in Berlin. “People with frailty have often reached a great age – but they may still benefit from all the things that palliative care does so well.” Never too old for palliative care indeed! But we do need a care model that is set up to routinely meet their multi-dimensional needs and focussed on their main concerns

  2. Pingback: What is the evidence that people living with frailty have needs for palliative care at the end of life? – Palliative Care NSW

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