Public Release: 

Conservative care may be a reasonable option for elderly kidney failure patients

Dialysis may not prolong patients' survival

American Society of Nephrology


  • Among kidney failure patients aged ?80 years, there was no statistically significant survival advantage for those who chose dialysis over conservative management.

  • Half or more of all patients on dialysis are aged ?65 years in some countries.

Washington, DC (March 17, 2016) -- A new study found no significant survival advantage among elderly kidney failure patients who chose dialysis over conservative management. The findings, which appear in an upcoming issue of the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN), indicate that conservative care may be a reasonable choice for selected older patients.

Worldwide, increasing numbers of older patients are developing kidney failure, or end-stage renal disease (ESRD), that can be treated with renal replacement therapy such as kidney transplantation or dialysis. Some experts have questioned whether older patients, who often have other medical conditions, are likely to benefit from these treatment options and should instead opt to be treated conservatively, with care that includes control of fluid and electrolyte balance, correcting anemia, and providing appropriate palliative and end of life care.

To look at the issue, a team in the country where hemodialysis was originally invented compared survival in older patients with ESRD who chose either dialysis (204 patients) or conservative management (107 patients) between 2004 and 2014. In this single-center observational study, investigators led by Wouter Verberne, MD and Willem Jan Bos, MD,PhD (St. Antonius Hospital, Nieuwegein, in The Netherlands) found no statistically significant survival advantage among patients aged ?80 years old who chose dialysis over conservative management. In general, patients with additional medical illnesses died sooner than patients without comorbidities.

"We do not conclude that dialysis treatment should not be given to anybody ?80 years or with severe comorbidity, but we show that the treatment is on average of little advantage regarding survival," said Dr. Verberne. "Our next task is to predict who benefits and who does not. Until we are able to give a better prediction of the results of dialysis treatment at high age, we can merely suggest that conservative management is an option which should honestly be discussed when ESRD is approaching." Dr. Verberne added that more research is needed to determine how different treatment options affect patients' other outcomes, such as quality of life and severity of symptoms.

In an accompanying editorial, Helen Tam-Tham, MSc and Chandra Thomas, MSc, MD (University of Calgary, in Canada) noted that conservative management programs can vary considerably from place to place. "Further research is necessary for enhancing and evaluating the multiple components necessary for a comprehensive conservative management program," they wrote.


Study co-authors include A.B.M. Tom Geers, MD, PhD, Wilbert Jellema, MD, PhD, Hieronymus Vincent, MD, PhD, and Johannes van Delden, MD, PhD.

Disclosures: This research was made possible thanks to an unrestricted grant from Roche (Woerden, The Netherlands) to the St. Antonius Research Fund.

The article, entitled "Comparative survival among older adults with advanced kidney disease managed conservatively vs. with dialysis," will appear online at on March 17, 2016, doi: 10.2215/CJN.07510715.

The editorial, entitled "What is the evidence to support or resist conservative management as a legitimate treatment for older patients with stage 5 chronic kidney disease?" will appear online at on March 17, 2016.

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Founded in 1966, and with nearly 16,000 members, the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) leads the fight against kidney disease by educating health professionals, sharing new knowledge, advancing research, and advocating the highest quality care for patients.

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