Thermal Injury in the Elderly: When Is Comfort Care the Right Choice?

Stassen, Nicole A.; Lukan, James K.; Mizuguchi, Nana N.; Spain, David A.; Carrillo, Eddy H.; Polk Jr., Hiram C.
July 2001
American Surgeon;Jul2001, Vol. 67 Issue 7, p704
Academic Journal
The factors contributing to a higher mortality rate in elderly thermal injury victims are not well delineated. The purpose of this study is to determine the impact of the initial injury, medical comorbidities, and bum size on patient outcome and to determine a level of injury in this population when comfort care is an appropriate first choice. Individual medical records of patients over 65 years of age admitted to our bum center over a 10-year interval were reviewed for patient demographics, mechanism of injury, total body surface area (TBSA) burned, medical comorbidities, use of Swan-Ganz catheters, evidence of inhalation injury, level of support, and patient outcome. The mechanisms of thermal injury were flame (68%), scald (21%) and electrical or chemical contact (11%). Twenty-six preventable bathing, cooking, and smoking-related injuries were seen (33%). The average TBSA was 25 per cent. Average length of stay varied depending on outcome. The overall mortality rate for this group was 45 per cent. Patients older than 80 years with 40 per cent or greater TBSA burned had a 100 per cent mortality rate despite aggressive treatment. Bum wound size correlated better with probability of poor outcome than age. Thermal injuries in the elderly are becoming more important with the aging of our population. Underlying medical problems--specifically chronic obstructive pulmonary disease--do play a role in increased patient morbidity and mortality. This study shows that age greater than 80 years in combination with burns greater than 40 per cent TBSA are uniformly fatal despite aggressive therapy. We believe that delaying the start of comfort-only measures in this situation only prolongs the pain and suffering for the patient, the family, and the physician.


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