Talking to doctors about your bucket list could help advance care planning

February 8, 2018, Stanford University Medical Center
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

For physicians, asking patients about their bucket lists, or whether they have one, can encourage discussion about making their medical care fit their life plans, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

A bucket list is a list of things you'd like to do before you die, like visiting Paris or running a marathon. It's a chance to think about the future and put lifelong dreams or long-term goals down on a piece of paper.

For doctors, knowing their ' bucket lists is a great way to provide personalized care and get them to adopt healthy behaviors, said VJ Periyakoil, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine, who said she that she routinely asks her patients if they have a bucket list.

"Telling a patient not to eat sugar because it's bad for them doesn't work nearly as well as saying, for example, if you are careful now, you will be able to splurge on a slice of wedding cake in a few months when your son gets married," Periyakoil said.

The study will be published Feb. 8 in the Journal of Palliative Medicine. Periyakoil, an expert in geriatrics and palliative care, is lead author.

The researchers, who surveyed 3,056 participants across the United States, found that by far the majority of respondents—91 percent—had made a bucket list. Survey results also showed that respondents who reported that faith and spirituality were important to them were more likely to have made a bucket list. The older the respondents were, the more likely they were to have a bucket list, and, not surprisingly, those younger than 26 tended to include more "crazy things" on their lists, such as skydiving.

Bucket list categories

Six general themes tended to describe the items on respondents' bucket lists: 79 percent included travel; 78 percent included accomplishing a personal goal, such as running a marathon; 51 percent included achieving a milestone, such as a 50th wedding anniversary; 16.7 percent included spending quality time with friends and family; 24 percent included achieving financial stability; and 15 percent included a daring activity.

"When you just Google the term 'bucket list,' it's huge how much interest there is in this," Periyakoil said. "It provides a very nice framework for thinking about your life goals, health and your mortality."

Past research has found that when doctors talk to patients—especially those with chronic or terminal illnesses—about the patients' goals for future care, it can be a vital part of the advance-care planning process. But it's often awkward to have these conversations, particularly when they are about the end of life, the study said.

"If a patient wants to attend a beloved grandchild's wedding or travel to a favored destination, treatments that could potentially prevent her from doing so should not be instituted without ensuring her understanding of the life impact of such treatments," the study said.

Discussing a patient's bucket list is just a good way to start these conversations, Periyakoil said. Most people are far more open to talking about their life's goals in this context before filling out an advance directive, a written statement of a person's wishes regarding medical treatment at the end of life, Periyakoil said.

'Find out what actually motivates them'

"It's important for physicians to talk to patients and find out what actually motivates them," she said. She encourages both doctors and patients to bring up the topic of a bucket list. By discussing how a treatment or surgery might affect the patient's life, and then discussing what the patient's goals are, the best possible care plan can be laid out, she said.

"I had a patient with gall bladder cancer," Periyakoil said. "He was really stressed because he wanted to take his family to Hawaii but had treatment scheduled. He didn't know he could postpone his treatment by two weeks. When doctors make recommendations, patients often take it as gospel."

After an informed discussion about his options and the side effects of the cancer treatments, he and his physician decided to postpone the . He made the trip to Hawaii with his family, then returned to start cancer treatments, the study said.

"Patients don't see the relevance of an advance directive," said Periyakoil. "They do see the relevance of a bucket list as a way to help them plan ahead for what matters most in their lives."

Explore further: Most physicians would forgo aggressive treatment for themselves at the end of life

More information: Vyjeyanthi S. Periyakoil et al, Common Items on a Bucket List, Journal of Palliative Medicine (2018). DOI: 10.1089/jpm.2017.0512

Related Stories

Most physicians would forgo aggressive treatment for themselves at the end of life

May 28, 2014
Most physicians would choose a do-not-resuscitate or "no code" status for themselves when they are terminally ill, yet they tend to pursue aggressive, life-prolonging treatment for patients facing the same prognosis, according ...

Patient-doctor ethnic differences thwart end-of-life conversations

April 22, 2015
Most doctors balk at talking with seriously ill patients about what's important to them in their final days, especially if the patient's ethnicity is different than their own, according to a new study by researchers at the ...

Co-founder of 'Ice Bucket Challenge' dies after ALS battle

November 30, 2017
The ALS Association says a man credited as one of the co-founders of the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge" that swept social media in 2014 has died after a yearslong battle with the condition known as Lou Gerhig's disease. Anthony ...

Study finds support across ethnicities for physician-assisted death

June 9, 2016
Physician-assisted death was supported by a majority of California and Hawaii residents, regardless of their ethnicity, who responded to an online survey, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School ...

Study reports ethnicity does not predict type of end-of-life care patients want

November 18, 2015
Ethnicity does not predict the type of end-of-life care people want, according to a study by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine

Recommended for you

Healthy diet linked to healthy cellular aging in women

August 20, 2018
Eating a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in added sugar, sodium and processed meats could help promote healthy cellular aging in women, according to a new study published in the American Journal ...

Sitting for long hours found to reduce blood flow to the brain

August 20, 2018
A team of researchers with Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K. has found evidence of reduced blood flow to the brain in people who sit for long periods of time. In their paper published in the Journal of Applied ...

Balanced advice needed to address 'screen time' for children, study shows

August 20, 2018
Parents, health professionals and educators need clear and balanced information to help manage young children's use of mobile touch-screen devices in Australia, new research by Curtin University has found.

Students more likely to eat school breakfast when given extra time, new study finds

August 18, 2018
Primary school students are more likely to eat a nutritional breakfast when given 10 extra minutes to do so, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Tech and Georgia Southern University.

Like shark attack and the lottery, unconscious bias influences cancer screening

August 17, 2018
What do shark attack, the lottery and ovarian cancer screening having in common? It turns out our judgments about these things are all influenced by unconscious bias.

Phantom odors: One American in 15 smells odors that aren't there, study finds

August 16, 2018
Imagine the foul smell of an ash tray or burning hair. Now imagine if these kinds of smells were present in your life, but without a source. A new study finds that 1 in 15 Americans (or 6.5 percent) over the age of 40 experiences ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.