Background: Elderly individuals are increasingly represented among patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD), but data describing life with an ICD are scarse among octo- and nonagenarians. Moreover, few studies have reported those elderly patients’ perspective on timly discussions concerning what shock deactivation involves, preferences on battery replacement, and their attitudes about turning off the ICD nearing end-of-life. Consequently, the aim of the study was to describe outlooks on life and death in octo- and nonagenarian ICD-recipients.

Methods: Participants were identified via the Swedish Pacemaker- and ICD-registry, with 229 octo- and nonagenarians (82.0 ± 2.2 years, 12% female) completing the survey on one occasion. The survey involved questions on health and psychological measures, as well as on experiences, attitudes and knowledge of end-of-life issues in relation to the ICD.

Results: The majority (53%) reported their existing health as being good/very good and rated their health status as 67 ± 18 on the EuroQol Visual Analog Scale. A total of 34% had experienced shock(s), 11% suffered from symptoms of depression, 15% had anxiety, and 26% reported concerns related to their ICD. About one third (34%) had discussed their illness trajectory with their physician, with those octo- and nonagenarians being more decisive about a future deactivation (67% vs. 43%, p < .01). A minority (13%) had discussed what turning off shocks would involve with their physician, and just 7% had told their family their wishes about a possible deactivation in the future. The majority desired battery replacement even if they had reached a very advanced age when one was needed (69%), or were seriously ill with a life-threatening disease (55%). When asked about deactivation in an anticipated terminal illness, about one third (34%) stated that they wanted to keep the shocks in the ICD during these circumstances. About one-fourth of the octo- and nonagenarians had insufficient knowledge regarding the ethical aspects, function of the ICD, and practical consequences of withdrawing the ICD treatment in the end-of-life.

Conclusions: Increasing numbers of elderly persons receive an ICD and geriatric care must involve assessments of life expectancy as well as the patient’s knowledge and attitudes in relation to generator changes and deactivation.

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Published in BMC Geriatrics, v. 18, 250, p. 1-9.

© The Author(s). 2018

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This study was funded with grants from the Medical Research Council of Southeast Sweden (FORSS) and the Swedish Heart and Lung Association.

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Datasets used and analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.