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Blood Purif. 2008;26(1):36-40. doi: 10.1159/000110561. Epub 2008 Jan 10.

How to manage elderly patients with chronic renal failure: conservative management versus dialysis.

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Institute and Department of Nephrology, University and Spedali Civili of Brescia, Brescia, Italy.


Over the past decade the number of elderly patients reaching end-stage renal disease has more than doubled. A fundamental medical decision that nephrologists commonly have to make is when to start dialytic treatment in elderly patients. Evidence is needed to inform about decision-making for or against dialysis, in particular in those patients frequently affected by multiple comorbidities for which dialysis may not increase survival. In fact, this decision affects quality of life, incurs significant financial costs, and finally mandates use of precious dialysis resources. The negative consequence of initiating dialysis in this group of patients can be deleterious as elderly people are sensitive to lifestyle changes. Furthermore, among dialysis patients, the elderly suffer the highest overall hospitalization and complication rates and most truncated life expectancy on dialysis of any age group. Studies of the factors that affect outcomes in elderly patients on dialysis, or the possibility in postponing in a safe way the start of a dialytic treatment, were lacking until recent years. Recently in the literature, papers have been published that address these questions: the effects of dialysis on morbidity and mortality in elderly patients and the use of a supplemented very low protein diet (sVLPD) in postponing the start of dialysis in elderly. The first study demonstrated that, although dialysis is generally associated with longer survival in patients aged >75 years, those with multiple comorbidities, ischemic heart disease in particular, do not survive longer than those treated conservatively. The second one is a randomized controlled study that compared a sVLPD with dialysis in 112 non-diabetic patients aged >70 years. Survival was not different between the two groups and the number of hospitalizations and days spent in hospital were significantly lower in those on a sVLPD. These studies add to the limited evidence that is currently available to inform elderly patients, their carers and their physicians about the risk and the benefit of dialysis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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