AARP Eye Center
COVID-19 is a health threat to everyone, but it's of particular concern for older adults: 80 percent of all deaths related to COVID-19 have been of people over the age of 65, and they make up almost a third of intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of the most critically ill patients suffer from hypoxia, or severe oxygen shortage, and as a result are hooked up to a machine known as a ventilator to help them breathe.
But research now suggests that even with this method of treatment — which involves sedating and intubating a patient to insert a breathing tube — older COVID-19 patients face dismal survival rates. As a result, some physicians are rethinking this approach. “We know now that not everyone who presents with serious respiratory illness needs an invasive ventilator,” says Lewis Kaplan, M.D., president of the Society of Critical Care Medicine and a general, trauma and critical care surgeon at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
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A study published this week in The Lancet showed a high mortality rate — described to the media as “horrific” by the study authors — among older patients, particularly those with underlying conditions. The study itself looked at critically ill patients with a median age of 62 who were treated at two New York City hospitals in March and April. Looking at those over age 80 who were put on a ventilator, the authors found that more than 80 percent did not survive. By comparison, no patients under the age of 30 died at the two hospitals, and only a small number in that age group had to be put on ventilators.
In April, another study published in the medical journal JAMA looked at the outcomes of 5,700 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in the New York area, finding that only 3.3 percent of 1,151 patients who required ventilation had been discharged alive as of April 4, with almost a quarter dying and 72 percent remaining in the hospital. This is a significantly higher death rate than what’s usually seen for patients put on ventilators for other reasons in the past, such as bacterial pneumonia or collapsed lungs.