Surgery At My Age?

Q Our mom is 80 years old. The doctor proposed surgery to repair an aneurysm. Is it safe to have major surgery at her age?

A It is possible to have a safe and successful surgery at 80. Here are a few important considerations:


Overall Health: “I’d rather have a patient who is 79 and in great shape than a 49-year old in poor shape,” says Dr. Rita Moorman, an anesthesiologist in Los Angeles. Overall physical functioning is a good predictor of healing time and risk of complications.

Diagnosis: Any patient should understand his or her diagnosis. That means having a talk with the doctor(s) about prognosis as well.

Treatment: Understand the treatment options. Is surgery the best option or the only option? Remember, Medicare covers a second opinion.

Informed Consent: Once the diagnosis is accepted and the patient and doctor have agreed on treatment, all patients must sign an informed consent stating he or she understands the risks and benefits of the surgery. For someone with cognitive impairment, their healthcare agent or power of attorney for healthcare may sign the consent.

Pre-Op” or before the surgery: most patients will have an appointment with the surgeon to discuss how long it will take, who will be in the operating room, what will happen, and how long recovery might take. There are usually labs and other tests that are done prior to a surgery. These are routine and must not be skipped.

Post-Op or after the surgery: you should have a plan for your mom’s care. Remember
that older folks can take a while to come out of anesthesia, and may take a while to fully regain strength and balance after a few days in bed. Make a plan for help at home, home health and even physical therapy if needed.

One last thing to consider is the emotional aspects of surgery. Your mom might feel nervous about major surgery. Anyone might! All patients, regardless of age, need an opportunity to understand their health needs and to participate in healthcare decisions. Talking it through and supporting her decisions can help alleviate anxiety, which can only help with overall health and well-being.

Sources: “When it Comes to Surgery, Age is Just Part of Equation” by Marge
Dwyer Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, March 2013 http://www.