The Frailty Phenotype and Palliative Care Needs of Older Survivors of Critical Illness

Lauren R. Pollack, Nathan E. Goldstein, Wendy C. Gonzalez, Craig D. Blinderman, Mathew S. Maurer, David J. Lederer, Matthew R. Baldwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Objectives: To assess symptoms in older intensive care unit (ICU) survivors and determine whether post-ICU frailty identifies those with the greatest palliative care needs. Design: A prospective cohort study. Setting: Urban tertiary care hospital and community hospital. Participants: Medical ICU survivors of mechanical ventilation aged 65 and older (N = 125). Measurements: Baseline measurements of the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS), categorized as mild (0–3), moderate (4–6), and severe (7–10), and the frailty phenotype were made during the week before hospital discharge. Functional recovery was defined as a return to a Katz activity of daily living dependency count less than or equal to the prehospitalization dependency count within 3 months. In the last 29 participants recruited, we made additional assessments of fatigue and ESAS both at baseline and 1 month after discharge. Results: Fatigue was the most-prevalent moderate to severe symptom (74%), followed by dyspnea (53%), drowsiness (50%), poor appetite (47%), pain (45%), depression (42%), anxiety (36%), and nausea (17%). At 1-month follow-up, there were no significant differences in the proportions of participants with moderate to severe symptoms. Each increase in baseline ESAS fatigue severity category was associated with 55% lower odds of functional recovery (odds ratio = 0.45, 95% confidence interval = 0.24–0.84), independent of age, sex, comorbidities, and critical illness severity. Frail participants had a higher median baseline total ESAS symptom distress score (34, interquartile range (IQR) 23–44) than nonfrail participants (13, IQR 9–22) (P <.001). Conclusion: Older ICU survivors have a high burden of palliative care needs that persist 1 month after discharge. Fatigue is the most-prevalent symptom and may interfere with recovery. Post-ICU frailty may be a useful trigger for palliative care consultation and a treatment target.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1168-1175
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2017


  • critical care
  • fatigue
  • frailty
  • palliative care


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