dr.ssa Carola Locatelli

Do elderly cancer patients have different care needs compared with younger ones?

To the Editor:We read with great interest the article by Romito et al. reporting on the different care needs of elderly cancer patients compared with younger ones1. Highlighting the information needs of elderly cancer patients, this study concluded that older patients “felt the need for more information.”

In the discussion the authors report a discrepancy between their data and our study on clinical communication in the elderly cancer patient population in which patients were satisfied with the information received2. We take this opportunity to add a few comments providing a different reading of the reported data. Firstly, Romito’s study focused on the comparison between a younger versus an older group of patients, whereas we studied a sample of older patients (median age 72 years, interquartile range 68-76), 30% aged over 75 years. It is known to what extent age affects people’s attitude towards the management of stressful events like cancer, and how heterogeneous older people are. Secondly, 71.7% of elderly patients in the study by Romito asked for more comprehensible information compared with 57.1% of the younger group. Although the difference is not statistically significant, in our opinion it reveals a different approach of the elderly patient toward clinical information and this finding is relevant to support the need for more meaningful information. Many older patients are afraid of being unable to understand or remember medical information, which is why they prefer or need a family member to be present during medical consultation, as shown by our study2 and confirmed by a second study by our group specifically centered on the importance of the caregivers’ role in the communication process and in the management of the disease experience.