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J Med Ethics. 2007 Dec;33(12):712-6.

Elderly patients also have rights.

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  • 1Department of Legal and Forensic Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Murcia, E-30100 Espinardo, Murcia, Spain.



Sharing information with relatives of elderly patients in primary care and in hospital has to fit into the complex set of obligations, justifications and pressures concerning the provision of information, and the results of some studies point to the need for further empirical studies exploring issues of patient autonomy, privacy and informed consent in the day-to-day care of older people.


To know the frequency with which "capable" patients over 65 years of age receive information when admitted to hospital, the information offered to the families concerned, the person who gives consent for medical intervention, and the degree of satisfaction with the information received and the healthcare provided.


A descriptive questionnaire given to 200 patients and 200 relatives during the patients' stay in hospital.


Only 5% of patients confirmed that they had been asked whether information could be given to their relatives. A significantly higher proportion of relatives received information on the successive stages of the care offered than did patients themselves. As the age of the patients increased, so the number who were given information, understood the information and were asked for their consent for complementary tests decreased. The degree of satisfaction with the information offered was high for both patients and relatives (86.5% and 84%, respectively), despite the irregularities observed.


The capacity of elderly patients to participate in the decision-making process is frequently doubted simply because they have reached a certain age and it is thought that relatives should act as their representatives. In Spain, the opinion of the family and doctors appears to play a larger role in making decisions than does the concept of patient autonomy.

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