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May 22, 1995

Age as a Factor in Critical Care Unit Admissions

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Internal Medicine, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, La (Dr Nuckton), and the James F. Byrnes Center for Geriatric Medicine, University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Columbia (Dr List).

Arch Intern Med. 1995;155(10):1087-1092. doi:10.1001/archinte.1995.00430100123014

Background:  Although the aged occupy a high proportion of critical care beds nationwide, few multicenter studies have been undertaken to specifically determine physician attitudes toward the elderly in a critical care setting. We attempt to determine the importance of patient age as a factor in the admission of acutely ill medical patients to critical care units.

Methods:  In response to a hypothetical case scenario, physicians were asked to admit one of two patients to a last available critical care unit bed. An accompanying questionnaire was used to gain a ranking of several admission factors as compared with age, and to gain demographic data regarding the study population. Data were subjected to nonparametric statistical analysis.

Results:  When age was the only difference between two patients in a hypothetical case scenario, 80.7% of respondents chose the younger patient (age 56 years) for admission, 13.2% chose the older patient (age 82 years), and 6.2% abstained. Following the provision of more detailed medical and social information, however, only 53.5% chose the younger patient, 41.2% chose the older patient, and 5.3% continued to abstain. In a ranking of several admission factors, age was found to be of less importance than severity of presenting illness, previous medical history, and do not resuscitate status, but of more importance than patient motivation, ability to contribute to society, family support, and ability to pay for care. When asked if they supported a definitive age criterion that would restrict all patients over a certain age from access to critical care units, 95.1% responded that they did not.

Conclusions:  Age is a factor considered by physicians in the admission of acutely ill medical patients to critical care units. Other medical and social factors, however, can affect the impact of patient age on treatment decisions. Further study and discussion are needed to clarify the appropriate role of age and other factors in critical care unit admissions.(Arch Intern Med. 1995;155:1087-1092)