Purpose: To document and analyse the decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment (LST) in a population of very old patients admitted to the ICU.
Methods: This prospective study included intensive care patients aged ≥ 80 years in 309 ICUs from 21 European countries with 30-day mortality follow-up.
Results: LST limitation was identified in 1356/5021 (27.2%) of patients: 15% had a withholding decision and 12.2% a withdrawal decision (including those with a previous withholding decision). Patients with LST limitation were older, more frail, more severely ill and less frequently electively admitted. Patients with withdrawal of LST were more frequently male and had a longer ICU length of stay. The ICU and 30-day mortality were, respectively, 29.1 and 53.1% in the withholding group and 82.2% and 93.1% in the withdrawal group. LST was less frequently limited in eastern and southern European countries than in northern Europe. The patient-independent factors associated with LST limitation were: acute ICU admission (OR 5.77, 95% CI 4.32-7.7), Clinical Frailty Scale (CFS) score (OR 2.08, 95% CI 1.78-2.42), increased age (each 5 years of increase in age had a OR of 1.22 (95% CI 1.12-1.34) and SOFA score [OR of 1.07 (95% CI 1.05-1.09 per point)]. The frequency of LST limitation was higher in countries with high GDP and was lower in religious countries.
Conclusions: The most important patient variables associated with the instigation of LST limitation were acute admission, frailty, age, admission SOFA score and country.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov (ID: NTC03134807).
Keywords: Elderly; Ethics; Intensive care; Life sustaining treatment; Withdrawal; Withholding.