Greater longevity combined with ever-improving medical practices has made it possible for more elderly adults to opt for surgeries that just a decade ago would be have been unthinkable for someone in their late 80s. But these complex surgeries frequently result in serious complications that can leave elderly patients significantly disabled and often require a permanent move into long-term care.
A group of U.S. surgeons have been working together to develop the American College of Surgeon’s Coalition for Quality in Geriatric Surgery in order to better prepare elderly adults for surgery with a verification program that sets 30 standards hospitals should meet to improve surgical outcomes for older patients. According to a recent New York Times report, adults over the age of 65 account for 40 percent of surgical patients in hospitals and likely more than half of all surgical procedures. Studies have found that mortality and complication rates increase with age, especially over age 80.
Elderly adults often have multiple chronic health conditions and take a number of medications to manage these problems. Older seniors may also have cognitive changes, poor nutrition or mobility problems that increase their risk for complications following surgery. Hospitals that adopt the verification program for geriatric surgery patients will screen for these issues and prescribe “pre-habilitation” to help vulnerable elderly adults gain strength before undergoing surgeries.
Helping patients and families clearly understand the risks of surgery for elderly adults is also an important component of the program; in some cases, palliative care that offers a better quality of life for a shorter time would be preferred by patients in very old age. There are times when surgery to extend life isn’t worth the risk to an elderly adult of spending their last years in nursing care, hooked up to machines and unable to enjoy even the smallest pleasures.
With the fast-growing elderly population, creating specialized medical programs for geriatric patients is becoming increasingly important to better serve the needs of older adults. With more education and communication, patients, families and health care providers can work together to ensure safer and better quality care for older adults. Learn more by following this link to the American College of Surgeons website.