An important end-of-life consideration for seniors is whether or not they would want to have CPR if their heart stops beating or if they stop breathing.
What we usually see on TV paints a rosy picture of CPR and leads many of us to think everyone would want it. After all, the CPR shown on TV is quick, painless, and almost always works.
In real life, the CPR process is brutal and survival rates are low.
Before making a choice about CPR, it’s essential for seniors to know the risks, benefits, and their chance of recovery.
We explain how CPR works, special risks for older adults, the chances of survival, and post-CPR quality of life.
How CPR really works
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is used as a treatment for sudden cardiac arrest. It’s much more violent than what’s shown on popular TV shows.
Real-life CPR means pushing down into the chest at least 2 inches deep and at least 100 times per minute.
Sometimes, air is forced into the lungs. Then, an electric shock is sent to the heart to try to get it to beat again.
If CPR is successful, all that pounding on the body usually results in major physical trauma.
This trauma often includes broken ribs, lung bruising, damage to the airway and internal organs, and internal bleeding.
CPR risks for seniors
Along with the physical trauma, patients who receive CPR also have to deal with serious long-term consequences like possible brain damage from oxygen deprivation.
First, older bodies are physically weaker and less likely to recover from the CPR itself.
On top of that, the existing health conditions that caused heart failure in the first place make it even less likely that they’ll recover at all or have reasonably good quality of life.
Because of all this, some people argue that using CPR on seniors leads to an unnecessarily prolonged and painful death.
CPR survival rates are low among seniors
Research suggests that only 10-20% of all people who get CPR will survive and recover enough to leave the hospital.
For chronically ill elderly patients, a study has shown a less than 5% chance of surviving long enough to leave the hospital after receiving CPR.
Another important factor is the quality of life that people will have after recovering from CPR.
Being well enough to leave the hospital doesn’t mean they will have the quality of life they desire.
Making a meaningful recovery from the cardiac arrest and the damage caused by CPR will be very difficult for seniors with existing health conditions.
Seniors need to know the facts before making a decision about CPR
This doesn’t mean that CPR isn’t a valid choice for your older adult.
It means that it’s important for them to understand the facts and realistic outcomes before making their choice.
In a study, when older adults over 85 years old were made aware of their chances of survival, only 6% chose to have CPR.
Talk to the doctor about CPR risks and benefits
Your older adult (and you as their advocate) should ask their doctor about the risks, benefits, and their realistic post-CPR quality of life before making a decision.
CPR is one of the few treatments that patients have to choose not to do – it’s part of the standard protocols used by hospitals and emergency responders.