Better Outcomes for Geriatric Surgery Patients

If we are fortunate, we will all grow old enough to worry about it feels like to be old. Around the age of thirty most of us realize that things aren’t as they once were. That’s great if you had a misspent youth, but it becomes concerning as you get the first inklings of slight deteriorations in strength and movement. Medical treatment must also adapt as a patient ages. What is efficacious for a forty-year-old will most certainly be different than the proper treatment for an eighty-year-old. Millions of families are now facing those realities with older baby boomer parents. This demographic group has thrown an important focus on the practice of geriatric medicine and preserving quality of life in the sunset years.

The July edition of the Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons states the issue quite concisely:

“The landscape of surgical practice is changing rapidly because of the aging of the U.S. population. The number of Americans older than 65 years will increase from 40 million in 2010 to 72 million in 2030.1 Optimal care of this older patient population will require a well-coordinated integration of the many facets of the modern-day health care system. We need to recognize that surgeons will be more likely to operate on patients well into their 70s, 80s, and even 90s. Delivery of surgical services to the vulnerable elderly cancer patient will be greatly strained. With complex surgical procedures—such as pancreaticoduodenectomy—being more commonly performed in the geriatric population, understanding who can tolerate and fully recover from these interventions has become an important and intense area of investigation.”

There are several important considerations when addressing the medical treatment for senior citizens, and not all of them involve the practice of medicine. The most important considerations often center around the patient’s ability to physically survive surgery. The more intrusive the treatment, the greater the threat that treatment is to the mortality of an aged patient. Frailty is an important factor in determining whether the patient can withstand the treatment and recovery process. I have an eighty-seven-year-old family member who recently broke his hip and I was pleasantly surprised at the comprehensive approach his medical team took in their assessment, treatment, and recovery protocols.

He was physically strong for his age, and that was an encouragement to his doctors. A simple hand grip test is a quick, effective and inexpensive way for a medical staff to initially assess the strength of the patient. Previous medical history and results from a current work-up can also give physicians a great insight in assessing the level of frailty of a patient.

The big questions for geriatric patients and their families often centers around the post-surgical realities. How long will recovery last? Will there be cognitive, emotional, and psychological effects of the treatment? How will this affect the lifestyle of the patient? Many of the answers to these questions can begin to be formed based on the patient’s frailty before the treatment is initiated.

It certainly speaks to the importance of maintaining good health well into your senior years. Your physical strength plays a vital role in your ability to tolerate, recover, and thrive after surgery.

If you have any questions about geriatric surgery and recovery please don’t hesitate to call the great staff at Desert West Surgery to set up a consultation at 702.383.4040.  

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