Intensive care decision making in the seriously ill and elderly

Crit Care Med. 2004 Mar;32(3):649-54. doi: 10.1097/01.ccm.0000115636.29294.2f.


Objective: To determine the influence of self-reported preadmission quality of life, hypothetical quality of life and mortality prognosis, and length and intensity of intensive care on decision making in the seriously ill and elderly.

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: Medical university.

Subjects: Adult inpatients with chronic illness and an estimated 50% 6-month mortality along with patients > or =80 yrs old with an acute illness.

Interventions: Patients were presented with two scenarios: a) mechanical ventilation for 14 days; and 2) mechanical ventilation for 1 month with tracheostomy and feeding tube placement. A modified time trade-off was used to vary survival and quality of life over plausible ranges. Patients could consent to intensive care or choose care directed at comfort measures.

Measurements and main results: Fifty patients were interviewed. As projected intensive care unit mortality rate or postintensive care unit quality of life decreased, patients were less likely to consent to intensive care. Postintensive care quality of life was as important to patients as intensive care survival estimates. However, prehospitalization quality of life did not significantly influence decision making regarding life-extending treatment. When progressing from the acute intensive care scenario to chronic mechanical ventilation with associated interventions, patients demanded a significant increase in survival and quality of life. Neither race nor previous intensive care unit admission was associated with consent to intensive care.

Conclusions: There is wide variation in preference for aggressive care that does not appear to be influenced by prehospitalization quality of life. However, predicted quality of life appears to be as important as estimates of intensive care unit survival in decision making. When confronted with extended mechanical ventilation and associated care, a significant proportion of patients would accept this care only for an improved prognosis. Length and intensity of intensive care should be incorporated into discussions regarding intensive care.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health
  • Critical Care*
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Intratracheal*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life
  • Respiration, Artificial*
  • Terminal Care*
  • United States