There are fewer elderly in intensive care in the Netherlands — why?

It appears that fewer and fewer elderly people are being referred to intensive care. This number can perhaps explain the reason for fewer hospitalizations.

In March more than one in every three patients in the IC was 70 years or older. Now the number is one in every four, according to figures released in Trouw. Furthermore, the largest group of hospitalisations was previously aged between 70 to 75, now it has fallen to between 60-65. Trouw also reports that fewer elderly are hospitalised at all.

But don’t get your hopes up just yet. It doesn’t mean that the elderly are falling ill less often, just that they are being treated at home more, receiving oxygen and medication there. Professor of geriatric medicine, Marcel Olde Rikkert, told Trouw that this is because home treatment is less isolating and more comfortable.

Dutch approach to palliative care

Palliative care is ingrained in Dutch culture. It focuses on improving the quality of life for a person who is suffering from a life-threatening illness. The aim is to decrease suffering and painful symptoms and provide “social, psychological and spiritual support” so that patients do not spend the last few weeks of their life in a hospital hooked up to machines.

READ MORE: The problem with the Dutch mortality rate

The patient has the right to choose this procedure, and the Netherlands is renowned for offering high standards of palliative care to patients. Many elderly patients may choose this approach once diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses, such as coronavirus.

Explaining the number of hospitalisations

Perhaps the fact that elderly are not being admitted to hospital as often helps explain the reason for fewer hospitalisations in the Netherlands.

Since April 9, the number of hospitalisations in the Netherlands has been decreasing, prompting Dutch hospitals to consider whether they’ll soon return to normal levels of care (i.e. the normal ICU capacity).

It is unknown how many deaths among the elderly resulting from coronavirus occur at home, according to RTL Nieuws. This information would make figures on coronavirus more clear and show whether the number of hospitalisations going down signifies a decrease in coronavirus cases. As of now, the elderly are still the most vulnerable group to the virus.

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Feature Image: DutchReview/Canva

Vedika Luthra
Vedika Luthra
Vedika was born in India, raised in Poland and moved to the Netherlands to study. Like her nationality, she’s confused about what she likes most, which is why her bachelor’s degree was in liberal arts and sciences. She enjoys writing about all things food-related but likes to mix it up every now and then.


  1. Thank you so much for this article. Without transparency about hospitalization policies, using the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital as a measure of how fast the virus is spreading in the Netherlands could easily lead to public misunderstanding, particularly if hospitalization policies are evolving. The data you have cited regarding the average age of COVID-19 patients in the hospital is critical to understanding why hospitalization rates may be falling. Keep up the good work.


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