SAN DIEGO – The wider picture of the patient’s health and prognosis, not just chronologic age, should enter into the clinical decision to initiate dialysis, according to Bjorg Thorsteinsdottir, MD, a palliative care physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
“People perceive they have no choice [but treatment], and we perceive we have to do things to them until everything is lost, then we expect them to do a 180 [degree turn],” she said in a presentation at the meeting sponsored by the American Society of Nephrology.
“A 90-year-old fit individual, with minimal comorbidity living independently, would absolutely be a good candidate for dialysis, while a 75-year-old patient with bad peripheral vascular disease and dementia, living in a nursing home, would be unlikely to live longer on dialysis than off dialysis,” she said. “We need to weigh the risks and benefits for each individual patient against their goals and values. We need to be honest about the lack of benefit for certain subgroups of patients and the heavy treatment burdens of dialysis. Age, comorbidity, and frailty all factor into these deliberations and prognosis.”
More than 107,000 people over age 75 in the United States received dialysis in 2015, according togathered by the National Kidney Foundation. Yet the survival advantage of dialysis is more limited in elderly patients with multiple comorbidities, Dr. Thorsteinsdottir said. “It becomes important to think about the harms of treatment.”
A 2016 study from the Netherlands found no survival advantage to dialysis, compared with conservative management among kidney failure patients aged 80 and older. The survival advantage was limited with dialysis in patients aged 70 and older who also had multiple comorbidities. ()
In an interview, Dr. Thorsteinsdottir acknowledged that “determining who is unlikely to benefit from dialysis is complicated.” However, she said, “we know that the following comorbidities are the worst: dementia and peripheral vascular disease.”
“No one that I know of currently has an age cutoff for dialysis,” Dr. Thorsteinsdottir said in the interview, “and I do not believe the U.S. is ready for any kind of explicit limit setting by the government on dialysis treatment.”
“We must respond to legitimate concerns raised by recent studies that suggest that strong moral imperatives – to treat anyone we can treat – have created a situation where we are not pausing and asking hard questions about whether the patient in front of us is likely to benefit from dialysis,” she said in the interview. “Patients sense this and do not feel that they are given any alternatives to dialysis treatment. This needs to change.”
Dr. Thorsteinsdottir reported no relevant financial disclosures.