Geriatric Care Improves Quality of Life, Not Life Expectancy, Veterans Affairs Report Finds
Specialized geriatric care improves the quality of life for "frail, elderly patients," though it does not extend life expectancy, according to a new study in today's New England Journal of Medicine, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/20). Researchers from the Veterans Affairs Department studied 1,388 patients ages 65 and older who were being treated at one of 11 veterans' hospitals. Participants were randomly assigned to either an inpatient geriatric unit or a typical inpatient care unit and then received care at either an outpatient geriatric clinic or a typical outpatient clinic. In both settings, patients were treated by a team made up of a geriatrician, a social worker and a nurse. At the time of discharge, patients who received treatment in the specialized geriatric units demonstrated "significantly greater improvements" in scores for physical functioning, bodily pain, energy, and general health compared with patients who received care in usual inpatient units. Further, patients in the geriatric units had good scores on physical performance and basic activities of daily living. Patients receiving care at outpatient geriatric units also had strong scores in energy, mental health and general health. After one year, improvements in bodily pain and mental health were sustained for patients in specialized geriatric care, the study says. The study notes that whether patients were placed in geriatric units or general units had no effect on their mortality. The study also says that the costs of treating patients in geriatric units and usual units were similar (Cohen et al., NEJM, 3/21). Dr. Harvey Cohen, the study's lead author, said the study could increase the number of geriatric programs because "they show modest benefits at no increased cost." He added, "Many older people would much rather have a good quality of life than extend life if quality of life weren't going to be improved" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.