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Abstract

Over the last 10–15 years, the incidence of treated end-stage renal disease (ESRD) among older adults has increased and dialysis is being initiated at progressively higher levels of estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). Average life expectancy after dialysis initiation among older adults is quite limited, and many experience an escalation of care and loss of independence after starting dialysis. Available data suggest that treatment decisions about dialysis initiation in older adults in the United States are guided more by system- than by patient-level factors. Stronger efforts are thus needed to ensure that treatment decisions for older adults with advanced kidney disease are optimally aligned with their goals and preferences. There is growing interest in more conservative approaches to the management of advanced kidney disease in older patients who prefer not to initiate dialysis and those for whom the harms of dialysis are expected to outweigh the benefits. A number of small single center studies, mostly from the United Kingdom report similar survival among the subset of older adults with a high burden of comorbidity treated with dialysis vs. those managed conservatively. However, the incidence of treated ESRD in older US adults is several-fold higher than in the United Kingdom, despite a similar prevalence of chronic kidney disease, suggesting large differences in the social, cultural, and economic context in which dialysis treatment decisions unfold. Thus, efforts may be needed to adapt conservative care models developed outside the United States to optimally meet the needs of US patients. More flexible approaches toward dialysis prescription and better integration of treatment decisions about conservative care with those related to modality selection will likely be helpful in meeting the needs of individual patients. Regardless of the chosen treatment strategy, time can often be a critical ally in centering care on what matters most to the patient, and a flexible and iterative approach of re-evaluation and redirection may often be needed to ensure that treatment strategies are fully aligned with patient priorities.