Discussing a bucket list with a family doctor could help people live a healthier and longer life, suggests new research.
The study shows that GPs who know what patients want to do with their lives allows them to provide a more personalised care plan and help them adopt a healthier lifestyle.
For example, if patients are stressed a forthcoming operation or clashes with a planned trip, it could be postponed for a few weeks without any adverse effect.
Or if a patient has to cut down on certain foods, their doctor may be able to set targets so they can still enjoy an occasional treat.
Professor VJ Periyakoil, of Stanford University School of Medicine in the United States, routinely asks her patients if they have a bucket list.
She said: “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.”
The study surveyed 3,056 patients across the US and found nine out of 10 had made a bucket list.
Those who were religious were more likely to have made a bucket list as were older patients.
By contrast younger patients under 26 tended to include more “crazy things” on their lists, such as skydiving.
It found the top six themes were travel, followed by accomplishing a personal goal, such as running a marathon, achieving a life milestone, such as a 50th wedding anniversary, spending quality time with friends and family, achieving financial stability and wanting to do a daring activity.
Prof Periyakoil added: “It provides a very nice framework for thinking about your life goals, health and your mortality.”
Past research found 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.
For example if someone wants to travel to somewhere for one last time, treatments that could potentially prevent this should not be started without the patient “understanding of the life impact of such treatments.”
But a bucket list is just a good way to start these conversations and most patients are far more open to talking about their life’s goals in this context before filling out an advance directive.
This is a written statement of a person’s wishes regarding medical treatment at the end of life.
She said: “It’s important for physicians to talk to patients and find out what actually motivates them.”
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 added: “I had a patient with gall bladder cancer.
“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 doctor decided to postpone the treatment until his return.
Prof Periyakoil concluded: “Patients don’t see the relevance of an advance directive.
“They do see the relevance of a bucket list as a way to help them plan ahead for what matters most in their lives.”
The study was published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine.