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Pharmacological treatment in the dying geriatric patient: describing use and dosage of opioids in the acute geriatric wards and palliative care units of three hospitals.

Janssens WH, Van Den Noortgate NJ, Piers RD. Pharmacological treatment in the dying geriatric patient: describing use and dosage of opioids in the acute geriatric wards and palliative care units of three hospitals. Eur Geriatr Med. 2021 Apr 20. doi: 10.1007/s41999-021-00496-2. 

Abstract
Purpose:
The quality of dying of the older person could be optimized. One of the cornerstones to achieve better symptom control in the dying patient can be the use of opioids. However, little benchmark data concerning the use and dosage of opioids in the terminal phase in older persons are available.

Methods: In this multi-centric retrospective study, we included patients 75 years and older who died on the acute geriatric unit (AGU) and the palliative care unit (PCU) in three hospitals (during a 2-year period). Sudden deaths were excluded. Demographic and clinical variables, and data concerning use and dosage of opioids in the last 72 h before death were collected.

Results: Data from 556 patients were collected (38.5% from PCU, 61.5% from AGU). Older patients on the PCU were younger and suffered more frequently from end-stage malignancies. Most older patients on PCU (98.2%) received opioids with a mean dosage of 88.2 mg in 72 h. On the AGU, 75.5% of patients was treated with opioids with a mean dosage of 27.7 mg in 72 h. After adjusting for the variables age, gender and underlying pathology, use of opioids (OR 11.9; 95% CI 2.7-51.7; p = 0.022) and dosage (B 28.8; 95% CI 4.1-53.4; p = 0.001) still differed between the PCU and the AGU. Dosage of opioids was also associated with suffering from cancer or not.

Conclusions: This descriptive benchmark study shows that opioids are given to 75.5% of dying older patients on the AGU at a mean dose of 27.7 mg over the last 72 h versus 98.2% and 88.2 mg, respectively, on the PCU. Further prospective studies including detailed information on symptomatology and more in-depth clinical information on trajectory of dying and cause of death are necessary.