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To examine the outcome, functional autonomy, and quality of life of elderly patients (≥70 yrs old) hospitalized for >30 days in an intensive care unit (ICU).Prospective cohort study.A ten-bed, medical-surgical ICU in a 460-bed, acute care, tertiary, university hospital.A consecutive cohort of 75 patients, >70 yrs old, admitted to the ICU from January 1, 1993, to August 1, 1998, for >30 days.None.Severity at admission and of the underlying disease was estimated according to the Simplified Acute Physiologic Score (SAPS II), the Organ Dysfunction and/or Infection (ODIN) score, the McCabe score, and the Knaus classification. Therapeutic intensity was measured through the French Omega scoring system. All patients were mechanically ventilated during their ICU stay. Outcome measurements were made by two cross-sectional studies using telephone interviews on the first week of September 1996 and 1998 with a questionnaire including measures of functional capacity by Katz’s Activities of Daily Living, modified Patrick’s Perceived Quality of Life score, and the Nottingham Health Profile. The survival rate was 67% in the ICU and 47% in the hospital. A total of 30 patients were alive and able to participate in at least one of the cross-sectional studies. Independence in activities of daily living was decreased significantly after the ICU stay, except for feeding. However, most of the 30 patients remained independent (class A of the Activities of Daily Living index) with the possibility of going home. Perceived Quality of Life scores remained good, even if the patients estimated a decrease in their quality of life for health and memory. Return to society appeared promising regarding patient self respect and happiness with life. The estimated cost by survivor was of 55,272 EUR ($60,246 US).This study suggests that persistent high levels of ICU therapeutic intensity were associated with a reasonable hospital survival in elderly patients experiencing prolonged mechanical ventilatory support. These patients presented a moderate disability that influenced somewhat their perceived quality of life. These results are sufficient to justify prolonged ICU stays for elderly patients.