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November 1992

Life-Sustaining Interventions in Frail Elderly Persons: Talking About Choices

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Community Medicine, St Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center, New York, NY (Drs Kellogg and Brickner); Department of Psychology, New York University (Ms Crain); and Department of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine (Dr Corwin).

Arch Intern Med. 1992;152(11):2317-2320. doi:10.1001/archinte.1992.00400230119021

Background.—  Engaging older persons in consideration of use of life-sustaining measures, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, tube feeding, and urgent intubation, is widely recommended, yet uncommon.

Methods.—  We studied the short-term impact of a physician-initiated discussion, geared toward guiding informed decision-making, with 20 frail elderly homebound patients. A battery of psychologic rating scales was administered in a pre-post design. Eighteen subjects completed the protocol. Fifteen of the mentally capable surviving subjects were reinterviewed 18 months following the initial discussion to evaluate durability of their decisions.

Results.—  Most welcomed the discussion and clear choices regarding future care usually emerged. Depression rating scales decreased slightly for the entire sample. For the subgroup having relatively internal locus of control, there was an increase in life satisfaction scores. No patient demonstrated signs of emotional trauma consequent to the discussion. On follow-up, several patients were indecisive about their choices.

Conclusion.—  Involvement of these patients in decisionmaking appeared to have no adverse effects, and, for some, it was therapeutic, possibly through enhancement of personal control. Durability of their decisions was not a consistent finding, however.(Arch Intern Med. 1992;152:2317-2320)