More Americans Are Choosing to Die at Home

For the first time since the early 20th century, more Americans are choosing to die at home rather than in a hospital.

A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday found deaths in nursing homes also have declined.

Researchers studied data on natural deaths complied by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics from 2003 to 2017.

In that period, the number of people dying at home increased from 543,874 (23.8%) to 788,757 (30.7%).  

At the same time, the number of deaths in a hospital fell from 905,874 (39.7%) in 2003 to 764,424 (29.8% ) in 2017.

“It’s a good thing. Death has become overly medicalized over the last century,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Haider Warraich of the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System.  

The rise of home hospice services has helped more people spend their last days at home, Warraich said.

“I have met many patients who just want to spend one day at home, around their dog, in their bed, able to eat home food,” he said.

Hospice provides terminally ill patients with end-of life care, including pain management and emotional support for the patients as well as their families.

In 2003, 5,395 people died in hospice, in 2017, the number rose to 212,652.

The study found the cause of death also reflected where the person died.

Cancer patients were most likely to die at home, and dementia patients in a nursing home.

The rise in at-home deaths “reflects that perhaps we’re able to honor more people’s wishes and help them pass away in a place that’s most familiar to them,” Warraich said.