Recent studies indicate continuing controversy over the appropriateness of intensive care in various clinical settings, particularly for very young and very old patients. We studied decisions regarding cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the associated clinical course in an acute geriatric unit serving the frail elderly. Despite multiple acute and chronic conditions, advanced age, and functional impairment, patients overwhelmingly preferred CPR. The patients with donot-resuscitate (DNR) orders were more functionally dependent, more acutely and chronically ill, and less likely to participate in the decision regarding CPR. The majority of DNR orders were made by surrogates, while the majority of CPR directives were made by the patients themselves. Other forms of acute and supportive care, such as parenteral antibiotics, artificial feeding, and transfusions were not withheld from the DNR patients unless a separate decision to limit a specific treatment was undertaken following consultation between the attending physician and the patient or family. Acuity of illness greater than two SDs above the unit mean and the presence of a surrogate decision maker predicted the majority of DNR orders. Length of stay averaged 28 days for all unit patients, 24 days for patients choosing CPR, and 46 days for patients with DNR orders. The four patients who were resuscitated but died stayed an average of 25 days, while the two survivors of resuscitation stayed 20 and 53 days, respectively. The findings indicate that patients and their families considered appropriate clinical criteria including severity of illness when making their decisions about CPR. Nevertheless, the majority chose to be resuscitated in the event of an arrest. Further studies are needed to explore medical decision making by elderly inpatients and their surrogates and to describe the associated clinical course.
(Arch Intern Med. 1992;152:561-565)