Personality traits and end-of-life attitudes and behaviours in older adults

S. Vilpert1, V. A. Ryser1, G. D. Borasio1, J. Maurer1 (1Lausanne)


Personality traits reflect people’s differences in personality dimensions which are manifest in how they think, feel and behave. Five broad personality traits are identified: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to experience, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness. Personality traits are relatively stable over time and are related to decision-making styles, as well as to specific end-of-life (EOL) healthcare preferences.


Building on this knowledge, our study aims to explore the association of personality traits with attitudes and behaviours towards the end of life in general and EOL care planning in particular.


Our analyses are based on nationally representative data (n=1’524) of a paper-and-pencil questionnaire which was part of the Swiss component study of the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) combined with SHARE data from waves 6 and 7. Personality traits are measured with the Big-Five inventory ten (BFI-10). Attitudes and behaviours related to the end of life are: outlook −avoid thinking about death, think about and discuss EOL preferences−, administrative arrangements −testament, power of attorney−, approval and completion of advance care planning, and membership in a right-to-die organisation.


Results show that older adults with higher scores on openness are more likely to think, plan and discuss the end of life, as well as to have made arrangement in advance such as a testament, a power of attorney, and a membership in a right-to-die organisation. Older adults with higher scores on extraversion are more likely to have a testament, those with higher scores on neuroticism more often think about their wishes for the end of life, whereas those scoring higher on agreeableness are less likely to be in favour of advance care planning. After the introduction of controls in the regressions, the associations remain stable overall.    


These results indicate, first, that older adults in Switzerland remain unfamiliar with EOL topics, since only individuals with higher openness to experience are more prone to prepare for the end of life. Second, the absence of other strong associations between personality traits and EOL attitudes and behaviours may indicate that personality has a limited impact on how people approach the end of life. Thus, a person’s dominant personality traits should not be a barrier, but should be taken into account when educating and encouraging people to plan for the end of life.