OBJECTIVE: To examine utilization and outcomes of intensive care unit (ICU) use for the elderly in the United States.
DESIGN: We used 1992 data from the Health Care Financing Administration to examine ICU utilization and mortality by age and admission reason for hospitalizations of elderly Medicare beneficiaries.
MAIN RESULTS: Use of the ICU was least likely for the oldest elderly overall (85+ years, 21.1% of admissions involved ICU; 75–84 years, 27.9%; 65–74 years, 29.7%), but more likely during surgical admissions. Eighty-three percent of the Medicare patients who received intensive care survived at least 90 days. Of the oldest elderly, 74% survived. Even among the 10% most expensive ICU hospitalizations, 77% of all patients and 62% of those 85 years and older survived at least 90 days.
CONCLUSIONS: The likelihood of ICU use among these elderly decreased with age, especially among those 85 years or older. Diagnostic mix importantly influenced ICU use by age. The great majority of the elderly, including those 85 years and older and those receiving the most expensive ICU care, survived at least 90 days.