Age-related differences in care preferences, treatment decisions, and clinical outcomes of seriously ill hospitalized adults: lessons from SUPPORT

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2000 May;48(S1):S176-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2000.tb03129.x.


Objectives: To review previously published findings about how patient age influenced patterns of care for seriously ill patients enrolled in the Study to Understand Prognoses and Preferences for Outcomes and Risks of Treatments (SUPPORT).

Design: An observational prospective study.

Setting: Five acute care hospitals.

Participants: A total of 9105 seriously ill patients enrolled in SUPPORT.

Measurements: The outcomes examined included patients' preferences for aggressive care, decision making regarding cardiopulmonary resuscitation and use of other life-sustaining treatments, hospital costs, intensity of resource use, and survival.

Results: Although older patients preferred less aggressive care than younger patients, many older patients wanted cardiopulmonary resuscitation and care focused on life extension. Patients' families and healthcare providers underestimated older patients' desire for aggressive care. After adjustment for illness severity, comorbidity, baseline function, and patients' preferences for aggressive care, older age was associated with lower hospital costs and resource intensity and higher rates of decisions to withhold life-sustaining treatments. In adjusted analyses, older age was associated with a slight survival disadvantage. This survival disadvantage persisted, even after adjustment for aggressiveness of care, suggesting that the relation between age and survival is not accounted for by less aggressive treatment of older patients.

Conclusions: Even after adjustment for patients' prognoses and care preferences, seriously ill hospitalized older patients were treated less aggressively than younger patients. SUPPORT cannot fully identify whether the relationship between older age and less aggressive treatment is better explained by the withholding of potentially beneficial treatments from older patients, or by the excessive provision of ineffective treatment to younger patients. However, the latter explanation is favored by the SUPPORT finding that less aggressive treatment for older patients does not contribute to the modest survival disadvantage associated with older age.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / psychology
  • Decision Making*
  • Family
  • Health Services Research*
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Prognosis
  • Resuscitation Orders
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Terminal Care / psychology*
  • Treatment Outcome