Background: Evidence-based health policy is urgently needed to meet the increasing demand for health services among elderly people, particularly for expensive technologies such as renal-replacement therapy. Age has been used to ration dialysis, although not always explicitly, despite the lack of rigorous empirical evidence about how elderly people fare on dialysis. We undertook a comprehensive assessment of outcomes in patients 70 years or over.
Methods: We did a 12-month prospective cohort study of outcomes in 221 patients with end-stage renal failure aged 70 years or over recruited from four hospital-based renal units. We assessed 1-year survival in 125 incident patients (70-86 years) and disease burden (hospital admissions, quality of life, costs) in 174 prevalent patients (70-93 years).
Findings: 1-year survival rates were: 71% overall; 80%, 69%, and 54% in patients 70-74 years, 75-79 years, and 80 years and older, respectively (p=0.008); and 88%, 71%, and 64% in patients with no, one, or two or more comorbid conditions, respectively (p=0.056). Cox regression analyses showed that mortality was significantly associated with age 80 years and older (relative risk 2.79 [95% CI 1.28-6.93]) and peripheral vascular disease (2.83 [1.29-6.17]), but not with diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, chronic obstructive airways disease, sex, or treatment method. In terms of disease burden, hospital admissions represent a low proportion of costs and was not required by a third of patients, mental quality of life in elderly dialysis patients was similar to that of elderly people in the general population, and the average annual cost per patient of 20802 (US$31200) (68% dialysis treatment, 1% transport, 19% inpatient hospital admissions, 12% medications) was within the range of other life-extending interventions.
Interpretation: Our results suggest that age alone should not be used as a barrier to referral and treatment and emphasise the need to consider the benefits of dialysis in elderly people. Indicators of the ability to benefit from treatment, rather than chronological age, should be used to develop policies that ensure equal access to care for all.