Background: In the absence of advanced directives, physicians treating demented patients rely on surrogates to help make medical care decisions.
Method: We surveyed family members of severely demented nursing home residents to determine preferences for medical intervention in five hypothetical situations involving tube feeding, hospitalization, intensive care unit admission, mechanical ventilation, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Results: Only 11.8% of surrogates rejected all interventions. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation and tube feeding were accepted least frequently (31.6% and 36.4%, respectively). Mechanical ventilation, hospitalization, and intensive care unit admission were accepted by 43.6%, 63.4%, and 75.2%, respectively. There was no correlation between previous surrogate experience with an intervention and its acceptance. Nearly 70% of surrogates indicated that decisions were independent of any previously expressed resident views.
Conclusions: In this study, surrogates of even the most demented nursing home patients prefer hospital level services including intensive care unit care for the treatment of acute illness. Efforts to control access to services on ethical or economic grounds may meet with resistance.