Patient Care

Initiation of Dialysis Does Not Help Maintain Functional Status in Elderly


Clinical question: Is functional status in the elderly maintained over time after initiating long-term dialysis?

Background: Quality-of-life maintenance often is used as a goal when initiating long-term dialysis in elderly patients with end-stage renal disease. More elderly patients are being offered long-term dialysis treatment. Little is known about the functional status of elderly patients on long-term dialysis.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: U.S. nursing homes.

Synopsis: By cross-linking data from two population-based administrative datasets, this study identified 3,702 nursing home patients (mean 73.4 years) who had started long-term dialysis and whose functional status had been assessed. Activities of daily living assessments before and at three-month intervals after dialysis initiation were compared to see if functional status was maintained.

Within three months of starting dialysis, 61% of patients had a decline in functional status or had died. By one year, only 1 in 8 patients had maintained their pre-dialysis functional status.

Decline in functional status cannot be attributed solely to dialysis because study patients were not compared to patients with chronic kidney disease who were not dialyzed. In addition, these results might not apply to all elderly patients on dialysis, as the functional status of elderly nursing home patients might differ significantly from those living at home.

Bottom line: Functional status is not maintained in most elderly nursing home patients in the first 12 months after long-term dialysis is initiated. Elderly patients considering dialysis treatment should be aware that dialysis might not help maintain functional status and quality of life.

Citation: Kurella Tamura MK, Covinsky KE, Chertow GM, Yaffe C, Landefeld CS, McCulloch CE. Functional status of elderly adults before and after initiation of dialysis. N Engl J Med. 2009;361(16):1539-1547.

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