The ETHICA study (part I): elderly's thoughts about intensive care unit admission for life-sustaining treatments

Intensive Care Med. 2013 Sep;39(9):1565-73. doi: 10.1007/s00134-013-2976-y. Epub 2013 Jun 14.


Purpose: To assess preferences among individuals aged ≥80 years for a future hypothetical critical illness requiring life-sustaining treatments.

Methods: Observational cohort study of consecutive community-dwelling elderly individuals previously hospitalised in medical or surgical wards and of volunteers residing in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. The participants were interviewed at their place of residence after viewing films of scenarios involving the use of non-invasive mechanical ventilation (NIV), invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV), and renal replacement therapy after a period of invasive mechanical ventilation (RRT after IMV). Demographic, clinical, and quality-of-life data were collected. Participants chose among four responses regarding life-sustaining treatments: consent, refusal, no opinion, and letting the physicians decide.

Results: The sample size was 115 and the response rate 87 %. Mean participant age was 84.8 ± 3.5 years, 68 % were female, and 81 % and 71 % were independent for instrumental activities and activities of daily living, respectively. Refusal rates among the elderly were 27 % for NIV, 43 % for IMV, and 63 % for RRT (after IMV). Demographic characteristics associated with refusal were married status for NIV [relative risk (RR), 2.9; 95 % confidence interval (95 %CI), 1.5-5.8; p = 0.002] and female gender for IMV (RR, 2.4; 95 %CI, 1.2-4.5; p = 0.01) and RRT (after IMV) (RR, 2.7; 95 %CI, 1.4-5.2; p = 0.004). Quality of life was associated with choices regarding all three life-sustaining treatments.

Conclusions: Independent elderly individuals were rather reluctant to accept life-sustaining treatments, especially IMV and RRT (after IMV). Their quality of life was among the determinants of their choices.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Life Support Care / psychology*
  • Male
  • Patient Admission
  • Patient Preference*