The rich die differently from you and me, U-M study shows

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---The inequalities that mark American life maintain their hold through age and even death, a new study shows.

Wealthier elders are significantly less likely than poorer ones to suffer pain at the end of their lives, according to a University of Michigan study forthcoming in the August issue of the Journal of Palliative Care.

Specifically, men and women age 70 or older whose net worth was $70,000 or higher were 30 percent less likely than poorer people to have felt pain often during the year before they died. This difference persisted after the researchers controlled for age, gender, ethnicity, education and diagnosis.

Wealthier elders also experienced a lower number of symptoms overall, the study found. Those in the wealthiest half of the elderly population not only had less pain, but were less likely to suffer from shortness of breath and depression.

Still, both rich and poor older Americans suffered more than expected in their last year of life, the researchers concluded.

"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, a research scientist at the U-M and the lead author of the study. "The older adults we studied who lived in the community suffered as much in their last year of life as do younger people who are severely ill and hospitalized."

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 was based on an analysis of data on 2,604 men and women age 70 or older who died between 1993 and 2000. They were part of the Health and Retirement Study conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) and funded by the National Institute on Aging. The study interviews a nati

Contact: Diane Swanbrow
University of Michigan

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