UW News

January 20, 2010

Older adults may have higher risk of complications, death after abdominal surgery

Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering

The risk of complications and early death after commonly performed abdominal surgical procedures appears to be higher among older adults, according to a report from UW researchers in the December issue of Archives of Surgery.

Dr. Nader N. Massarweh, second-year surgical resident, and colleagues at the UW School of Medicine examined complication and death rates in more than 100,000 adults age 65 or older who underwent common abdominal procedures—including gall bladder removal—from 1987 to 2004. Complications were recorded within 90 days of discharge and deaths were recorded within 90 days of hospital admission.

Massarweh said the research was part of an ongoing study led by Dr. David Flum, UW professor of surgery. “The care of older adults in the United States is an important topic that’s only going to attract more study and more interest,” said Massarweh. “The older segment of the population is also the fastest growing, and older adults more commonly need surgical care. If we don’t evaluate ways to improve the medical care of older adults, we would be ignoring a huge segment of the population.”

Some two million older Americans undergo abdominal surgical operations each year, according to the journal article. Informed decision making is challenging for clinicians, patients and families because of limited data about the risks of adverse events associated with advancing age.

Based on the study, Massarweh said older adults contemplating a surgical procedure should sit down with the surgeon and discuss, among other things, the ‘real-world’ data contained in the findings as part of an informed conversation. The study findings also provide the surgical and health-care communities with a new point of focus.

Massarweh said the study also helps highlight a group of patients who would perhaps benefit from further research on ways to improve medical care. Dr. Michi Yukawa, assistant professor of medicine, Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, is heading an effort to do just that, with the project known as PERFORM (Performance Evaluation and Research for Older Adults Requiring Major Surgery).

To read about other research projects at the UW Surgical Outcomes Research Center, please go to the SORCE Web site.