Seniors Who Fell Recently May Fare Worse After Surgery

TUESDAY Oct. 2, 2012 -- Older adults who experience a fall within the six months before major surgery have longer hospital stays and higher rates of complications and disability after their surgery, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at 208 patients, average age 74, who had colorectal or heart surgery at a single Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Of those patients, 34 percent had suffered at least one fall in the six months before their operation.

Among patients who had colorectal surgery, more than one complication occurred in 58 percent of those who had a fall and in 27 percent of those who did not fall. Complications included heart, lung and kidney problems, stroke, further surgery, blood clots and infections.

Patients who had a fall also spent nearly three times as many days in the hospital as those who hadn't fallen, the investigators found.

In addition, 59 percent of those who fell within the six months prior to surgery required institutional care after their surgery, compared with 4.2 percent of those who did not fall, the study authors found.

Similar findings were seen in patients who had heart surgery, according to the study presented Monday at an American College of Surgeons conference in Chicago.

"It has been shown in previous studies that a history of falls predicts poor long-term outcomes but we have never looked at immediate pre-op assessment related to post-op outcomes," lead author Dr. Teresa Jones, a surgical resident at the University of Colorado, said in an American College of Surgeons news release. "This is the first time that falls as a stand-alone risk marker have been used for predicting outcomes in older adults," she noted.

"Our goal is to help with preoperative and postoperative planning," Jones explained. "If it's likely that a patient will need to enter a nursing home for several weeks after an operation, the patient and family can evaluate various facilities beforehand to see which one would best address their specific needs. It's important for a patient to be at a place that they've chosen and know what to expect after surgery."

More than one-third of U.S. surgeries are performed on people aged 65 and older, the researchers say, and an increasing number of these patients are in their 80s.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about falls and older adults.

Posted: October 2012


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