French study finds elderly patients rarely consulted about admission to ICU

Of 2,000 patients over the age of 80, only 270 were asked for their opinion about admission to the ICU, according to a study conducted in France.

Researchers led by Julien Le Guen, MD, of Universite Paris Descartes in France used data from an earlier study involving ER patients over 80 and 15 hospitals in the Paris region. The ER physicians responded to a questionnaire regarding the status of the patient's health and treatments. All were afflicted with conditions potentially requiring intensive care, all were conscious and capable of articulating an opinion if asked. In the questionnaire, the physicians designated whether or not they sought the opinion of the patient or relatives in regards to the patient's admission to the ICU.

In a Reuters Health article, Dr. Le Guen states, "Intensive care techniques in these extreme ages of life raise the question of an artificial prolongation of life and can be perceived by some as therapeutic relentlessness." Dr. Le Guen goes on to cite the discomfort of ICU treatments, the rates of death amongst the oldest of the old and the frequent post-treatment loss of autonomy as reasons for concern regarding the results of the study.

In the same article, physician Walter E. Limehouse, MD, of the Medical University of South Carolina states, "An elderly person may not want aggressive treatment like intensive care, use of ventilators or feeding tubes." Dr. Limehouse goes on to reference the importance of advance directives and treatment plans as effective means to combat this issue in the U.S. He asserts that U.S. physicians are more frequently asking for such directives with patients that seem unable to make critical decisions.

The data used in the French study was compiled between 2004 and 2006.

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