C Isles, S Robertson, A Almond, K Donaldson, D Clark
Journal Issue: 
Volume 41: Issue 3: 2011


The main aim of this review is to let general practitioners and physicians understand what happens to older patients after referral to the renal service. Usually, most patients will be managed completely by the renal team, either because the patient requires dialysis or because conservative but specialised care is appropriate. The recent increase in dialysis rate can mostly be accounted for by older patients for whom such demanding treatment was previously thought to be contraindicated. The decision to dialyse the elderly still remains difficult, with recent data suggesting that if there are significant comorbidities the survival advantage of dialysis in patients over 75 years of age is unlikely to be more than four months. Towards the end of life, conservative treatment is not simply a decision not to dialyse, but comprises active disease management, including treatment of anaemia and other supportive care, which may become increasingly complex, e.g. pain relief with fentanyl and alfentanyl. Older patients who decide to accept dialysis treatment contend with all the usual end of life issues of older people. They have an additional option, denied to the rest of us, of dialysis withdrawal; this effectively allows them to die at a time of their choosing.