‘I feel stronger and younger all the time’—perspectives of elderly kidney transplant recipients: thematic synthesis of qualitative research

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Abstract

Background

Kidney transplantation offers improved survival and quality of life to an increasing number of elderly patients with end-stage kidney disease. However, elderly kidney transplant recipients may face unique challenges due to a higher burden of comorbidity, greater cumulative risk of immunosuppression-related complications and increasing frailty. We aimed to describe the perspectives of elderly kidney transplant recipients.

Methods

Electronic databases were searched to April 2015. Qualitative studies were eligible if they reported views from elderly kidney transplant recipients (≥60 years). Thematic synthesis was used to analyse the findings.

Results

Twenty-one studies involving >116 recipients were included. We identified seven themes. ‘Regaining strength and vitality’ meant valuing the physical and psychosocial improvements in daily functioning and life participation. ‘Extending life’ was the willingness to accept any organ, including extended criteria kidneys, to prolong survival. ‘Debt of gratitude’ entailed conscious appreciation toward their donor while knowing they were unable to repay their sacrifice. ‘Moral responsibility to maintain health’ motivated adherence to medication and lifestyle recommendations out of an ethical duty to protect their gift for graft survival. ‘Unabating and worsening forgetfulness’ hindered self-management. ‘Disillusionment with side effects and complications’ reflected disappointment and exasperation with the unintended consequences of medications. ‘Finality of treatment option’ was an acute awareness that the current transplant may be their last.

Conclusions

Kidney transplantation was perceived to slow and even reverse the experience of aging among elderly recipients, especially compared with dialysis. However, some were frustrated over persistent limitations after transplant, struggled with the burden of medication side effects and worried about a possible return to dialysis if the transplant failed. Clarifying patient expectations of transplantation, providing support to alleviate the debilitating impacts of immunosuppression and addressing fears about deteriorating health and graft failure may improve satisfaction and outcomes in elderly kidney transplant recipients.

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