Purpose: To examine age- and age-related differences in recall of information provided during oncology consultations.
Patients and Methods: Two hundred sixty patients with cancer diagnosed with heterogeneous cancers, seeing a medical or radiation oncologist for the first time, participated in the study. Patients completed questionnaires assessing information needs and anxiety. Recall of information provided was measured using a structured telephone interview in which patients were prompted to remember details physicians gave about diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. Recall was checked against the actual communication in audio-recordings of the consultations.
Results: Recall decreased significantly with age, but only when total amount of information presented was taken into account. This indicates that if more information is discussed, older patients have more trouble remembering the information than younger ones. In addition, recall was selectively influenced by prognosis. First, patients with a poorer prognosis recalled less. Next, the more information was provided about prognosis, the less information patients recalled, regardless of their actual prognosis.
Conclusion: Recall is not simply a function of patient age. Age only predicts recall when controlling for amount of information presented. Both prognosis and information about prognosis are better predictors of recall than age. These results provide important insights into intervention strategies to improve information recall in patients with cancer.