Aging Surgery

Surgery and the Older Patient: What You Need to Know

One of the benefits of living in our technologically advanced society is a dramatic increase in life expectancy. A report from the National Institute on Aging projects a 351-percent jump of people living to 85 and beyond. That’s great news, although it can present challenges.

As people age, their health tends to decline when compared to their younger years.. That means surgery is sometimes in order to address certain issues. But with surgery comes a host of considerations and risks for the older patient.

Age Limits?

People sometimes ask what the age limits are for having surgery. Can someone simply be too old for it? The reality is, there are no hard-and-fast limits based solely on chronological age. There are many other considerations to bear in mind.

Thankfully, surgery has become far less invasive in many cases as laparoscopic procedures have come into common use. They involve smaller incisions, shorter hospital stays, less pain medication and many other advantages. These kinds of procedures have made it easier for older patients to thrive after surgery.

Age-Related Risks

There are risks associated with all surgeries, and not all procedures can be performed minimally invasive. Older patients face more hazards during and after surgery than their younger counterparts, all other things being equal. But again, it’s not age alone that determines the level of risk.

When considering whether to have surgery, it’s important to consider one’s overall health. Hypertension and diabetes are fairly common among the older population, creating a higher risk factor for those patients. Some elderly patients have a more difficult time with anesthesia than others. Others have trouble with their pain medication and face more pronounced side effects than they would at a younger age.

There are also immune issues at play. Because of changes to the immune system over time, older patients’ physical response to inflammation and fever can make recovery more of a challenge. These are all factors an older patient will want to discuss at length with a physician before considering surgery.

Post-Operative Issues

The families of older adults who undergo surgery are often troubled by the after effects of the anesthesia in post-operative recovery. The patient may experience confusion, impaired cognition, intermittent consciousness, anxiety and other symptoms. Again, this is more common in patients as they advance in age.

Many older patients do perfectly fine in surgery and recovery. One of the major considerations, of course, is whether the surgery is elective or necessary to sustain life and quality of life.

Regardless, it’s crucial that older patients be mindful of the risks involved and discuss them at length with their physicians, weighing costs and benefits. An informed decision is usually the best decision.

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