Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic precipitated a surge of deaths in the home as opposed to a facility.
Researchers examined data on the place of death among adults in 47 countries that took place between January 2012 and December 2021, according to a new study in the Lancet. The study focused on cancer and dementia patients.
Worldwide, the percentage of home deaths rose to 32.2% during 2020 and 2021, up from 30.1% in 2012–2013. During that same period, home deaths in the United States increased to 31.7%, up from 28.8%. Researchers examined data pertaining to more than 100 million people.
“Pandemics stir health and mortality patterns everywhere. One such is the COVID-19 pandemic, declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020 and with the end of its emergency phase on 5 May 2023,” the study indicated. “This is likely to include trends in dying places. Studying the impact of the pandemic on place of death matters because it may signal critical disruptions in end of life care. If so, it should inform health policy and planning.”
Home deaths increased during the pandemic in 23 countries. In most of those, the rise was greater among women and cancer patients.
The increases were driven by a number of factors, the study found. First was the need for families to make end-of-life decisions rapidly. The pandemic may also have led to greater reluctance to enter facilities and strengthened the reasons that patients prefer to die at home.
The availability of palliative care, inclusive of hospice, also played a role.
“A higher rise of home deaths among people dying of cancer may be explained by the more predictable disease trajectory compared to non-malignant conditions, as well as earlier and better integrated palliative care,” the study found. “The expansion of telemedicine during the pandemic may have also played a role.”