Survival implications of sudden functional decline as a sentinel event using the palliative performance scale

J Palliat Med. 2010 May;13(5):549-57. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2009.0299.


Background: This retrospective study analyzed sudden functional decline using the Palliative Performance Scale (PPSv2) for patients recently admitted to a palliative care unit (PCU) to determine if this adversely affects survival. There were 3328 patients in the cohort over a 13-year period admitted to a tertiary palliative care bed (71.1%) or a residential hospice bed (28.9%). Patient age ranged from 17-102 years old with 51.9% female and 48.1% male; the majority (88.3%) had a cancer diagnosis.

Results: Given several limitations noted in the study, six preliminary findings emerged: (1) The lower the initial PPS at PCU admission, the higher the likelihood of an abrupt drop occurring shortly after admission; (2) An abrupt decline in function appears to be associated with smaller survival probabilities; (3) A greater increment change in PPS may be associated with shorter survival probabilities; (4) The lower the PPS on admission, the shorter the survival; (5) When dropping a specific increment amount, the new survival projection appears similar to the PPS level dropped to; and (6) Sudden or abrupt functional decline may be a sentinel event.

Conclusions: The data provide evidence that abrupt functional decline implies the likelihood of shorter survival in palliative care patients and may act as a sentinel marker. It is unclear whether these findings would be generalizable outside of a PCU. These results should be interpreted with caution as a prospective evaluation is needed to confirm the results. If substantiated, it may be that incorporating sudden functional decline into palliative prognostic models may increase their predictive accuracy.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • Survival Rate