Tough choices: dialysis, palliative care, or a third option for elderly ESRD

Semin Dial. Nov-Dec 2012;25(6):633-9. doi: 10.1111/sdi.12018. Epub 2012 Oct 19.


Dialysis should not be presumed to be the treatment of choice for all elderly chronic kidney disease stage 5 patients. Nondialysis active medical management, as an alternative to dialysis or palliative care, is a reasonable alternative in select cases. Early referral of CKD 5 elderly patients may lead to early initiation of dialysis, which may not be advantageous; it also provides an opportunity to institute active management as a treatment alternative. The informed decision to proceed with dialysis must involve both an assessment of evidence-based outcomes applicable to the patient, and allowance of patient preference. Prognostic tools are increasingly sought to aid in decision-making for elderly CKD 5 patients. Chronological age alone is not a sufficient predictor of benefit from dialysis treatments, according to observational studies and limited clinical trial data. The survival advantage of dialysis appears to be lost in patients with high levels of comorbidity. Establishing patient preference is an imperfect process, and many patients appear to regret their decision to undergo dialysis. With active medical management, efforts shift from prolonging life to emphasis on symptom control, dietary and medical treatment, and quality of life. Patient survival time can be remarkably long.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy*
  • Palliative Care*
  • Renal Dialysis*