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Posted on April 18, 2013 at 8:24 AM

Significant amounts of over-treatment in the United States are due to a persistent widespread failure to do advance care planning.  Most people do not want aggressive curative directed treatment at the end of life.  But most leave no instructions or informed surrogates to implement such wishes.  One reason for the lack of advance care planning is anxiety about discussing death.

University of British Columbia researchers may have found an inexpensive and easy solution:  the over-the-counter pain drug Tylenol. Typically known to relieve physical pain, the study suggests that Tylenol may also reduce the psychological effects of fear and anxiety over the human condition, or existential dread.

“Pain exists in many forms, including the distress that people feel when exposed to thoughts of existential uncertainty and death,” says lead author Daniel Randles, UBC Dept. of Psychology. “Our study suggests these anxieties may be processed as ‘pain’ by the brain – but Tylenol seems to inhibit the signal telling the brain that something is wrong.”

“The Common Pain of Surrealism and Death: Acetaminophen Reduces Compensatory Affirmation Following Meaning Threats” is in the Association for Psychological Science journal Psychological Science.

Perhaps, next year, community organizers at National Healthcare Decisions Day events across the country will include a bottle of Tylenol next to the Five Wishes forms and cookies.

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