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Keywords:

  • Acute inpatient care;
  • end-of-life decisions;
  • VA health care system;
  • administrative data uses

Objective. To analyze whether acute care patients with dementia are more or less likely to receive each of five aggressive medical services near the end of life, compared with patients without dementia.

Data Sources. Two years of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Medicare utilization data for all 169,036 VA users nationwide age 67 and older who died between October 1, 1999 and September 30, 2001.

Study Design. We performed a retrospective analysis of acute care stays discharged in the final 30 days of life. The main outcome measure was the patient's likelihood of receiving each of five aggressive services (intensive care unit [ICU] admission, ventilator, cardiac catheterization, pulmonary artery monitor, and dialysis), controlling for demographic and clinical factors in probit regressions.

Principal Findings. There were 122,740 acute-stay discharges during the final 30 days of life, representing 94,100 unique patients (31,654 with dementia). In probit models comparing acute care patients with and without dementia, patients with dementia were 7.5 percentage points less likely to be admitted to the ICU (95 percent confidence interval [CI], 6.9–8.1; percent of stays with ICU admission=36.8 percent), 5.4 percentage points less likely to be placed on a ventilator (95 percent CI, 5.0–5.9; percent of stays with ventilator use=17.1 percent), 0.7 percentage points less likely to receive cardiac catheterization (95 percent CI, 0.6–0.8; percent of stays with cardiac catheterization=2.7 percent), 1.4 percentage points less likely to receive pulmonary artery monitoring (95 percent CI, 1.2–1.5; percent of stays with pulmonary artery monitoring=2.6 percent), and 0.6 percentage points less likely to receive dialysis (95 percent CI, 0.4–0.8; percent of stays with dialysis=4.6 percent).

Conclusions. During the final 30 days of life, acute care patients with dementia are treated substantially less aggressively than patients without dementia. Further research is warranted to determine the causes and appropriateness of these patterns of care.